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  1. Introduction and methodology

When John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959, he was, in effect, calling upon the church as a whole to engage in a process of renewal. A very special role in this process fell to the bishops of the church who were to meet, discuss and precipitate that renewal by their constitutions and decrees in union with the pope. Unfortunately, John never lived to see the fruit of the conciliar effort. In June 1963 he was succeeded by Cardinal Montini, Pope Paul VI, who immediately announced that the work of the council would continue.

One of the many issues facing the council fathers in the early sixties was the mounting discussion over the problems of the family, population and birth control. The conciliar agenda determined that these questions would be taken up in what was to become the famous Schema XIII, eventually the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” Gaudium et Spes. But the most crucial questions in this area never reached the council floor. From the beginning, John XXIII felt that the issues involved were too delicate, for conciliar debate and he appointed a preparatory commission to research this field(1).  Because of his premature death and the discrete nature of the original commission (the first meeting of which actually took place in the early pontificate of Paul VI) we may never know this pope’s intentions regarding the role of the bishops in the final resolution of the question.

We do know, however, the intentions and actions of Paul VI in this regard. In deciding to continue the work of the commission and strengthen its status as a papal advisory body, he was actually removing the matters under discussion from the hands of the bishops. In his allocution of 23 June 1964,(2) the pope referred to the decisions in these matters as his own. Later, when the preliminary schema came to the council fathers for debate, discussion of the specific areas of birth control and contraception was suppressed. Subsequently, even the related topics of the nature of the family and human sexuality came under close papal scrutiny. Through a series of interventions, an attempt was made to modify the conciliar document m its final form. (3) This attempt achieved only limited results and the bishops eventually produced the highly acclaimed and revolutionary chapter on marriage and the family (GS, Part II, Ch. I, para. 47-52).

But the debate on birth control and the more controversial issue of contraception was far from over. What took place during the conciliar years was destined to remain with the church and have a significant impact upon the developing controversy. Yet the fact remains that at the most crucial moment in recent theological and ecclesiological history, the pope removed an issue of vital concern from the hands of the bishops and reserved all decision and responsibility for himself alone. The Pontifical Birth Control Commission continued to exist until it completed its findings the year after the council closed. The advisory body was then eclipsed by the figure of a solitary individual who labored for two more years to resolve the issue. The pope finally reached his decision and climaxed his personal trial with the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, on the regulation of births.(4)

From the beginning of the reign of Paul. VI, the bishops of the church were not allowed to engage in organized discussion or speculation on the questions of birth control and contraception. For five years they were forced to wait, along with the rest of the church, for the pope to reach his decision. Now, faced with a papal encyclical, the bishops had not only their chance but their duty to offer their own thoughts. Granted that they were no longer the initiators in this area, they nonetheless had an important role to fulfill. One might even say that the bishops of the world were being called upon once again to take up their conciliar work and debate among themselves and dialogue with the pope.

Regardless of how one may view the significance of episcopal reaction to HV, it would be impossible to deny its impact. Never before have so many bishops responded – very often in a collective way – to a papal encyclical and never before have their responses been so varied, and sometimes critical. The fact of that response is a matter of history, its content the task before us.  he meaning of that reaction in relation to papal and church teaching will remain a question for some time.

  1. The importance of episcopal reaction

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium,(5) devotes its third chapter to the structure of the church, particularly in respect to bishops. It teaches that the bishops are united with the pope in the office of sanctifying, teaching and governing the church. At the same time, it takes special note of the bishops’ role in the pastoral care of souls (LG, 27).  Ideally, these two functions are complementary, but in our human condition, the ideal is not always attainable.  In some specific situations it may seem that the bishops are caught between two polls.

Such may have been the case with the promulgation of HV. It was immediately evident that this papal encyclical did not and would not receive a warm reception among many in the church. Some bishops were not bothered by this, although it must be pointed out that nearly every episcopal statement on HV takes cognizance of the difficulty many would experience in attempting to implement the encyclical. Others found the situation of the laity in regard to HV to be their primary concern. This variety of attitudes resulted in some of the diversity of the reactions. But the diversity which remains a topic of analysis must first give way to the significance of the fact of the reactions.

The question of how important the bishops’ reactions to HV are can be answered, I think, under the two headings of teaching and interpretation.  The pope and bishops set forth in Vatican II the notion of collegiality to elucidate the relations between themselves and to stress the need of the episcopacy to act together. In a collegial way, pope and bishops sanctify, govern and teach the universal church. In the instance of a decree being papally promulgated, the contents of that decree can be said to be part of official church teaching. However, if the episcopate is to act collegially, the papal initiative must still be taken up and taught by the individual bishops both locally and universally. In the case of this papal encyclical, bearing upon a topic of such universal concern, it fell to the bishops to take up the initiative and teach those in their charge about the matters involved.

Likewise, the nature of papal statements, particularly those addressed to all men of good will, is such that their content must be limited to general principles. All these principles may or may not be relevant to particular individuals or groups of people, nor may they be applicable in exactly the same way. Every general teaching of the church must be made understandable and specifically applicable to all those for whom the teaching is intended. Failure to interpret the principle into the concrete situation of the individual catholic could only result in confusion and the ineffectiveness of any teaching.

Furthermore, the need to interpret can extend beyond the realm of practical necessity. Papal and official church statements are not theological treatises. They are often brief, to the point and not meant to encompass every possibility or exception. As such, they demand interpretation with respect to their meaning as well as their translation. Many historical examples can be given in which an interpretation of an official statement came to be preferred to the original statement itself. One example mentioned in the course of reaction to HV was that of Dupanloup’s interpretation of Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors. Papal reaction to the application of the thesis-hypothesis interpretation of his encyclical was positive enough to include a special letter of thanks to the commentator for helping to explain the meaning of the Syllabus.(6)

In the case at hand, these principles of teaching and interpreting are doubly important because they were called for by the Vatican itself. In a cover letter which Cardinal Amleto Cicognani, the Vatican Secretary of State, sent along with the text of the encyclical to each episcopal conference, the bishops, among others, are asked to faithfully teach and explain the doctrine given by the pope.

And now, he (the pope) turns to all priests, secular and religious, and especially those with responsibility as general and provincial superiors of religious orders, to exhort them to put forward to Christians this delicate point of Church doctrine, to explain it, and to vindicate the profound reasons behind it. The Pope counts on them and on their devotion to the chair of Peter, their love for the Church, and their care for the true good of souls.

Like them, he is informed of the ideas and practices prevalent in contemporary society, and he is well aware of the efforts that will be needed to educate men’s minds on this point. He knows what sacrifices – sometimes heroic ones – are involved in the application of Catholic principles in conjugal morality. It is his desire that the bishops, the priests, the Christian centers participating in the various Catholic movements and organizations become with joyful submissiveness the apostles of the teaching of Holy Mother Church and be able to find the convincing language which will ensure its acceptance.

May they set themselves the task of presenting this teaching in its true light, that is to say by showing its positive and beneficent aspect. What the Church wants above all is to help Christian couples towards mutual perfectioning, to purify their love and to appreciate the happiness of a married life lived in the sight of God and in full obedience to his law.(7)

This letter echoes the ideas already present in the third part of the encyclical itself (especially para. 28-30) to “expound the Church’s teaching without ambiguity” (IIV,28). The Pope, however, goes further and asks priests to give an “example of loyal internal and external obedience to the teaching authority of the Church” based not upon reason or arguments but on the inspiration the Holy Spirit gives to “Pastors of the Church.”(8) Card. Cicognani did not ask for assent or obedience in his letter, but he does seem to anticipate that HV would need more convincing statements of approval for it to be accepted.

Following the publication of HV, Pope Paul spoke on 31 July 1968 about the process that led up to the encyclical and again called for the need of interpretation.(9)  Later, as a kind of signal of acceptance of the large amount of discussion concerning HV, the pope again took note of the “lively debate aroused by our encyclical” and hoped it would lead to “a better knowledge of the will of God.”(10)

While these references must be balanced with other papal statements upholding the contents of HV in the strict sense, it would be idle to deny that Rome’s attitude toward episcopal reaction to HV included room for interpretation. But a large problem remains for many individuals who often read the bishops’ statements with one eye on Vatican authority. If for no other reason than to help the people of God understand the real nature of the situation, a thorough and lucid interpretation of these reactions needs to be done.

How, then, can and must we read these statements? A preliminary warning must be kept in mind about selective interpretation. Similarly, we must decide how best to evaluate the impact and authority of sometimes very diverse, even contradictory, statements. If one wants to bring some notion of consistency to the discussion and search for an emerging consensus, one will have to realize that the statements of the bishops do not have very much doctrinal (or morally authoritative) weight when taken separately. Rather, they must be seen together, as a whole, and evaluated as a body of raw material, itself as yet to be interpreted. While this may seem impossible at first, I believe it can be done if we approach the episcopal response to HV with the idea that they are pointing not to the single meaning of the encyclical, but to the limits of possible interpretation. Within those limits, theological commentaries will develop the fine points and elucidate the arguments. Such is the plan of this present work.

  1. Methodology

“Diverse” is a word often used to describe episcopal response to HV, but it applies to the interpretation of that response as well. The content of the analysis ranges from assertions that there is no difference between the episcopal reaction and the pope’s encyclical (11) to a recognition of clear divergence between the pope and some bishops.(12)  Sometimes this phenomenon is caused by a selective interpretation of what the bishops wrote, an attitude well concretized by the editorial policy and articles appearing in the L’Osservatore Romano(13) after publication of HV.  More often it is the result of lack of attention to detail, caused by the very complexity of the material taken as a whole. (14) This is basically a methodological problem which must be dealt with from the very beginning.

The plan of this study of episcopal reaction consists of three parts. First we will examine the opening phases of the discussion with some brief comments about the inaugural reaction and the malaise of individual statements. This period of initial impact set the stage for the more developed reaction by bishops, often emanating from the reflective work of national episcopal conferences. Before these major reactions can be confronted, however, it is necessary to give some attention to their background and their relation with other important factors, for example the conciliar documents relevant to the topics involved.

The second chapter will take up the analysis of the major episcopal reaction. After a general comment about orientation to the text of the encyclical, this survey aims at a thematic approach to some common points and perspectives which these statements share or disagree upon. The material is limited in two ways:  first, there is the problem of availability. Obviously, much more has been written about HV than is covered here, but we are limited to those statements which were published or fortuitously obtained. This does not seem to be a sign of inadequacy when we remember that the nature of our study is concerned with the whole of episcopal reaction which entered into the global discussion. The silence of many bishops is itself a factor in this situation, though we could only lament not being able to see the universal consensus of the hierarchy. Also, I have used an arbitrary time limit of one year for these reactions. This does not seem unreasonable because most all the bishops who wanted to express themselves on the issues had done so by the time of HV’s first anniversary. Furthermore, this situates all of these statements in the time before the 1969 Synod of Bishops.

Chapter three deals with what I refer to as “later reactions,” or those issued after July 1969. We will first briefly mention the work of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1969 which, while any reference to the HV affair was excluded, concerned one of the widening issues which debate over that encyclical had introduced, namely, the role of authority in the church (specifically the role of the bishops’ conferences). Then we will consider episcopal reaction to HV in the later years, usually second or third statements by bishops issued as much as seven years after HV. Of course, this must also be limited by the availability of such statements which were not often widely published. But it may reflect the growing consensus on the issues which will shape church teaching in the coming years.

Finally, a few summary remarks will attempt, to link this analysis with the second part of our study.

  1. Preliminary comments
  2. Msgr. Lambruschini’s press conference

The first person who may be said to have commented upon the encyclical HV is Msgr. Ferdinando Lambruschini who presented the document to the world in a press conference at Rome on 29 July 1968.(15) The purpose of this statement was to highlight the major points of the encyclical, but Msgr. Lambruschini, at that time a professor of moral theology at the Latern University, also included some personal observations and commentary on the meaning and status of the letter. Perhaps the most quoted statement he made was that “attentive reading of the encyclical Humanae Vitae does not suggest the theological note of infallibility.”(16) To the theologian, this is rather a statement of the obvious, but the affirmation was important, especially for those who do not appreciate either the doctrine of infallibility or the status of papal encyclicals.

Nevertheless, separating the papal decision from the realm of infallibility did not, in his eyes, detract from its authenticity or authority. The weight of the encyclical was presented as definitive in regard to the specific question of artificial contraception in which HV “fixes in authoritative form some of the points concerning the intimate structure of the conjugal act,”(17)  and “does not leave the questions concerning birth regulation in a vague problematic state.” (18) However, the authority of the encyclical does seem to be limited to this specific question, and Msgr. Lambruschini pointed out that the more fundamental questions of natural moral law are neither discussed nor resolved by this decision.

In admitting that such broader questions are still under discussion, he notes that even the documents of Vatican II (19)avoided use of the term “natural law,” but that this situation does not detract from the pope’s authority to make authentic pronouncements which have the force of law and are binding in conscience. Further, it is pointed out that the lack of any attempt to justify this teaching on the grounds of Scripture was intentional, as the previous attempt of Pius XI to do so in Casti Connubii is still in dispute.(20) Consequently, the entire basis for the argumentation is laid upon the “traditional teaching of the Church” and on the appropriation of the findings of “natural moral philosophy.”  Indeed he even goes so far as to link this understanding of objective morality to Stoic philosophy and affirms that the Holy Father has an unquestioned right to pronounce judgments on “natural morality.”(21)

Msgr. Lambruschini specified the meaning of the encyclical to be the statement of HV,14:

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.(22)  This, he says, is “the center, the nucleus, the apex, the heart and the key of the encyclical.”(23) It will be interesting to keep this idea in mind when surveying the reactions of the bishops.

With this as the focal point of the encyclical and the frequent affirmations of papal authority the main thrust of his statement, Msgr. Lambruschini made an interesting observation about the motivation behind HV. In the beginning of his exposition, he links the encyclical to the previous “Credo” of Paul VI, delivered one month earlier (30 June 1968). The “Credo,” he said, was fighting against “dogmatic relativism” while HV is fighting against “moral relativism.” (24) This motive is supported by his later observation that if artificial contraception could be accepted as not being a sin, there would no longer be any basis for the church’s stand on the whole of sexual morality. This theme will be recurrent, particularly among the defenders of HV, and it is worthwhile to point out here the possible connections with the genesis of this teaching.

We should keep in mind, first, that this conclusion is indicative of a specific theology of morality that takes as its foundation, not “the person” as such, but rather an impersonal, objective order to be found in nature. Secondly, the emphasis placed upon the probable breakdown of sexual morality if contraception were permitted (25) is a major point of the so-called “minority report” of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission.(26) While these points are not the object of our investigation here, they will form part of our later work on the background to the encyclical.

  1. Brief statements of bishops

Other immediate reactions to HV from bishops around the world seem to be characterized by a great diversity of both content and perspective. Most of these take the form of short statements to the press, but some became more involved, as in the question-answer format of press conferences, or more reflected, as in the form of pastoral letters or letters to Rome. A good sampling of the reactions can be found in the regular Catholic press during the month of August 1968. Particular attention might be paid to two articles in The Tablet, “The Encyclical: First Catholic Reactions,” and  “The Argument Goes On,”(27)  and to the first volume of Dossier Humanae Vitae: Reacties op de Encycliek.(28)

The majority of these short statements simply take recognition of the promulgation of HV, remind their listeners of the respect due to papal pronouncements, and recommend a complete reading and study of the document. However, some bishops felt that they had to go further in their endorsement of the teaching and so emphasized the authority or binding force of the papal teaching. Such examples could be seen from the bishops of Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and most of the bishops of the United States where there was to develop a particular crisis over the question of authority. In many other countries there was a marked divergence of opinion between individual bishops. In passing, we might mention just a few of them.(29)


Archbishop Pocock of Toronto called for “complete assent” Bishop Carter of London, Ontario said, “naturally we are disappointed”


Card. Alfrink of Utrecht said, “after the Council, the position of the Pope is clear”

Bishop Zwartkruis of Haarlem noted that people must “give approval in a very particular way”

South Africa:

Card. McCann of Capetown generally accepted the encyclical as it stood.

Archbishop Hurley of Durban said that HV would lead the church to a “critical phase in its crisis of authority”

It is interesting to note that in the places where a large variety of opinions emerged, the later statements of the full episcopal conferences tended to be less definitive and dogmatic in tone than in places where the initial statements basically agreed. These pluralistic groups of bishops either desired or were forced to use more collegial methods in drawing up their group declarations. (30) In some places this divergence of opinion never seemed to be resolved while in others the statements of full episcopal conferences seem to supersede a few original opinions. Thus, in England the eventual common declaration tries to encompass all possible points of view and in France there seems to be a compromise taken. Archbishop Francois Marty of Paris was quoted in Le Monde (9 Aug. 1968) as saying that “the greatest service the Pope has been able to render to Christianity and to the whole world…was to set forth anew the constant doctrine of the Church in all its purity.”(31) The later declaration of the French bishops apparently accepted this posture but modified it significantly by introducing new ideas like “conflict of duties,” the “lesser of two evils,” and the importance of one’s intention.(32)

On the other hand, one can contrast the statement of the Swiss Episcopal Conference that those who cannot follow the papal teaching “should not consider themselves guilty before God,” (33) with the earlier remarks of Bishop Adam of Sion:

One who would not submit himself (to this teaching) is no longer Catholic…As Catholics, we must, in matters of faith and morals, obey the Sovereign Pontiff, Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ. If we refuse to do that, we should have the loyalty and courage to leave the Church.(34)

Where a true consistency exists between immediate reactions and later statements, we can turn to our analysis of the later documentation for a more reflective exposition of episcopal thought. Here it is our main interest to point out that due to a number of causes, the publication of HV did not receive a passive, automatic, or consistent response, even from the hierarchy. Even Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), which received a significant amount of attention from the Third World for its dynamic social teaching, did not evoke the amount of response that HV did. The most obvious reason for this is because the subject of contraception touches upon the lives of the majority of people in the world. But the causes of the active desire on the part of many to say something, either positively or by way of commentary, points to the existence of a very different situation. Even if one were to speculate that the reactions to this encyclical were no greater than those toward any other papal letter, the fact that subsequent statements were widely published and given a great deal of attention is in itself an indication that the issue was by no means put to rest.

  1. Interim statements of episcopal conferences

Very few bishops decided to issue interim statements in the name of entire episcopal conferences and preferred to wait until all the members could come together in a general session. While this latter ideal was never reached by some conferences,(35) most of the bishops seemed to desire dialogue with their fellow bishops before endorsing an official text in the name of all. However, the-immediacy of the situation did prompt a few to present very brief statements.

The letter of the Vietnamese bishops simply acknowledges receipt of the encyclical and mentions that it’s teaching is parallel with the “ancestral tradition of Vietnam (that) always insisted on the true conjugal happiness found in numerous families,”(36)  This attitude amounts to little more than a simple acceptance of HV in its entirety. The political situation in Vietnam during the late 1960’s, however, may be cause for a lack of any more specific statement to follow. Certainly the issue of contraception was not the major concern of the Vietnamese people.

In contrast to this, the bishops of the Netherlands formed a unique group among the other episcopal conferences. This is evident in that the only official statement which was put forth as representing the work, of the collective hierarchy (9 ordinaries) was actually a resolution of the Dutch Pastoral Council, passed on 5 January 1969, in which the bishops formed a consenting minority.(37)  This non-hierarchical approach to receiving the papal teaching was forecast in their interim statement which noted the need for “consultation with theologians and other experts.”(38) Such consultation would take time, however, and the interim statement was an attempt to put things into perspective. The statement reminds all of the respect due to the pope but is quick to point out that the encyclical “is no infallible dogmatic declaration.” While the individual conscience must give attention to the teaching, still this is posed as only one factor in the actual moral decision. Finally, they point to the positive aspects of HV and close with an interesting statement which already points to a larger issue: “May the discussion about this encyclical contribute to a purer evaluation and functioning of authority inside the Church.”

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States issued a statement on 26 August 1968 that appeared to create more difficulties than it solved. In five short paragraphs, the NCCB made a plea for “a true Christian response” to HV and called upon everyone “to form their consciences in its light.”(39) This statement was received by many to mean that, although the pope had issued his declaration which the bishops described as “the principles to be followed in forming the Christian consciences of married persons,” one was still free to decide in conscience how he would act in this area. Such an interpretation was evidently not what the bishops had intended to say, as their later Pastoral Letter would show. Bishop Joseph L. Bernardin, the General Secretary of the NCCB, felt obliged to issue a “clarificatory” statement soon after, in which he denied that there was “any divergence between their statement and the teaching of the Holy Father,” and that although people must form their conscience, they had to be sure that it was a “correct conscience.” (40) This kind of confusion was hardly found in other countries but was symptomatic of the  problems of freedom and authority which became a major issue in the American Church after HV.

The bishops of Spain issued a “note” through their Doctrinal Commission on 17 September 1968 which concerned itself more with the publicity surrounding HV than with the encyclical itself. The Spanish bishops felt it necessary to reaffirm that the negative criticism that the papal teaching was receiving did not affect its binding force on the Christian conscience. They deplored the criticism and reinforced the role of the teaching authority of the pope. This statement was reiterated in the fuller text of the statement of the episcopal conference two months later.

  1. Individual statements

No attempt has been made to acquire and compare all the individual episcopal reactions to HV. Besides the fact that a comprehensive collection of individual pastorals would be virtually impossible, the scope of singular episcopal reaction to the encyclical covers a much wider range than is first apparent. Thus, such a survey would have to include not only works directly related to HV itself, but also statements which touch upon seemingly peripheral issues which, because of the broad impact of this encyclical, are undeniably related to the bishops’ reactions. One such example would be the highly publicized “Interview with Leo Joseph Cardinal Suenens” in the spring of 1969 (42) which, although HV is never mentioned, deals intimately with the many background issues that the letter provoked.

Generally, however, it is worth pointing out that many bishops choose to express  themselves publically either on the encyclical itself or on the many related issues which the world-wide reactions brought to the fore. It appears that the majority of individual reactions, although very diverse among themselves, frequently reflected or prefigured the collective work of the episcopal conferences of the particular region of which the individuals were a part.(43)  But some notable exceptions would also indicate that even on the level of smaller geographical and cultural groupings, there still existed pluralism and diversity, and the voices of dissent could still be heard.

Two examples of this dissent could be given from opposite perspectives In the United States, the encyclical touched off a controversy of authority and led to a bitter debate among some bishops and priests(44).  Alongside this issue the American bishops issued a long pastoral, mostly on HV, in which they generally represent the teaching of the pope. The only reference to allowable dissent given in the pastoral is to that of highly trained theologians who are restricted in expressing themselves publically.(45)  The same day that this pastoral was issued, an article was published by Bishop Charles A. Buswell of Pueblo, Colorado entitled “Dissent is not Disloyalty.”(46)  The article is principally about priest-bishop relations but it makes some further comments which contrast markedly with the letter of the Episcopal Conference. The collective pastoral places great emphasis upon the teaching authority of the pope as the source of moral principles, but Bishop Buswell has a slightly different perspective to add.

The priest should be sensitive toward his bishop and he will be aware of the difficulties involved in keeping proper balance between respect for authority and individual freedom. He should be open in communicating his concerns to his bishop; the bishop must be understanding of the concerns of his priests. This is especially true when the concerns are those of the faithful reflected by priests. The Holy Spirit manifests himself in the teaching authority of the Church. The Spirit also dwells in His people. It seems to me that these two presences are mutually complementary; both must be taken into account under penalty or not understanding His authentic message.

It is our priests who are best qualified to supply this need in the Church. As they witness to the realities which they experience in the total context of Christian living, they give evidence of the working of the Spirit in the lives of the people. This witness to the Spirit and to the conscientious efforts Catholic lay people are making to comply with the demands of the encyclical and the real difficulties they encounter in their attempts to fulfill its obligations is an invaluable service to the entire Church.

Perhaps it is just at this moment that the Holy Spirit is making use of many of our priests to bring to the Church His messages they learn it from the innermost conscience of a Christian people.(47)

The second example concerns the situation in Belgium. After the bishops issued their joint pastoral letter on 30 August 1968, many of the bishops put forth their own directives to explain the content of that letter or put the teaching into more concrete terms.(48)  Among these individual pastorals, however, was present at least one dissenting voice. Bishop Leonce-Albert van Peteghem of Gent issued a pastoral (49) which not only presented HV in its literal sense but took a very different direction from the collective Belgian pastoral. In his letter, Bishop van Peteghem puts the papal teaching forth as objectively normative and binding in conscience. He also proceeds to defend the teaching against some of the theological criticism it encountered. This attitude was further reinforced by the bishop’s later statements in which he continued to take an authoritative approach to HV, as well as other issues cf the church’s moral teaching. Seemingly, concerns for papal authority and rectitude of behavior dominate this bishop’s thoughts as he points out that “the authority of the Pope stands in the realm of authoritative pronouncement, above that of the moralists.(50)

  1. Collective statements

Admitting that each individual bishop has the responsibility to minister to and govern his own people, we must simultaneously be aware of the necessary interaction among the bishops themselves. LG,23 exposes this relationship as one of complementarity and values the “pastoral solicitude” of bishops for those outside their jurisdiction as necessary for the welfare of the whole church. This operates on two levels, that of the episcopal conference and that of the universal church. The type of dissent we have mentioned may be necessary for the growth of the church, but it must also take cognizance of a wider perspective. Pluralism seems to be a necessary condition for dialogue, but that dialogue must eventually take place.

It is for this reason that we can now look to the declarations of collective hierarchies as having particular importance. On the first level, these statements represent the coming together of many bishops who share a common pastoral and cultural situation. Without demeaning the role of the individual bishop, the significance of a conference appears more meaningful in terms of accurately representing the situation of a given “local church.” Logically speaking, we would estimate that a convergence of thought and opinion should have more weight than the perspective of any one person.

On the other level, the contributions of episcopal conferences add to the understanding that the entire church will eventually acquire. Although these pastorals were addressed to the laity or clergy of particular regions, they often had an impact far beyond their own jurisdiction.(51) Taken together, all these statements may point to the understanding that the church has regarding the specific questions at issue. They may positively tell us what the church sees as the meaning of this papal pronouncement or they may negatively indicate that the teaching has not been completely received. It is our intention here to elucidate the situation as accurately as possible and hence discover the limits of future discussion. Before we can do this, however, we must first turn our attention to the background of these reactions and analyze some more general characteristics.

III. Background to the collective reactions to HV

  1. The nature of the documentation

The immediate problem of acquiring the reactions of bishops to HV is not a major one. There are already collections of most of the relevant statements. The must notable of these are Humanae Vitae and the Bishops (HVB), Pour Relire Humanae Vitae (Pour Relire), and Dossier Humanae Vitae (Dossier) vol. I and II, which together contain virtually all of the relevant material.(52) But it would be misleading to think that all these statements are written or are to be read in the same way. While most are formal declarations drawn up for the purpose of commenting on HV and its aftermath, others range from short statements meant to accompany the publication of the encyclical (Senegal) (53) to documents produced for reasons completely different than responding to the encyclical (C.E.L.A.M.).(54)

What links these statements is their explicit reference to the encyclical with at least a minimal comment upon it. Further, they were all written within one year after HV was published, and each of these statements originates from bishops who have expressed themselves on the content of the encyclical.(55)  In regard to how this was done, the question of homogeneity becomes more problematic. On the one hand, there may be very much agreement on what Paul VI wrote positively in regard to the Christian view of mankind and marriage. But on the other, the reactions to the pope’s negative statements or prohibitions were less than unanimous. To judge such reactions we must first be familiar with our source material.

The documents which concern us in the main part of our study exclude the four interim statements mentioned earlier, from Vietnam, the Netherlands, the United States and Spain, and include 41 documents from 36 countries or regions. Nine documents represent multiple statements of single episcopacies. Thus, Indonesia is represented by three documents and Ireland, Mexico and Poland each have two documents. The two documents from West Germany represent the result of one meeting and were issued together on the same day. The great consistency of the two, unlike the different character of the Indonesian statements, causes me to link them together and treat them as one document.

The nature of this documentation consists mostly in “declarations” or official “statements” made by the bishops concerning HV. Another form of expression was the “pastoral letter” issued either to the community as a whole or to the priests within the bishops’ jurisdiction. The difference between a “declaration,” a “pastoral letter,” and a “pastoral note” as issued by France and Japan, is negligible. The variety in means of expression which the bishops use makes the definition of even one of these categories impossible and the only practical way to approach these statements is to ignore a plurality of literary styles, except where this may become particularly relevant.

The audience for which the statements are intended is taken to be the community of the church as a whole, within the territory of the individual conference. Whatever statements the bishops made specifically for priests are either incorporated into these general statements or represent a document which is a later addition to their primary address to their people.

There is only one published case, namely in East Germany, in which the bishops addressed only their priests and not the people. The case of the Indonesian bishops who issued separate letters to the pope, the priests and the people on the same day, constitutes a special case but will be considered as falling within the body of our source material.(56)

Most of these statements were issued to comment on the encyclical or its aftermath and reactions. However, some statements may be said to go beyond this particular problem. C.E.L.A.M. , as mentioned earlier-, was a Latin America-wide conference of bishops which addressed itself to the whole scope of problems faced by the church in Central and South America. Only one portion of their conference’s report is addressed to the question of birth control and HV. (57) The U.S. pastoral, “Human Life in Our Day,” deals with the family and the questions raised by the encyclical, but also considers the problems of war, arms control and the social problems of development. (58) The second pastoral letter of the Irish bishops is concerned with the wide topic of marriage and the family in general and constitutes an extended homily on the sacrament of marriage. (59)

Some of these statements were issued rather quickly after HV was published and so respond mainly to the encyclical itself. Others, either because of the shift in the issues itself or the foresight of the bishops who spoke to what they saw as wider issues, are concerned more with questions of authority and develop this issue more fully. Occasionally there is an interaction or influence between the reactions themselves. To facilitate our consideration of this possibility, there is a chronological list of the statements we are using in our study in Appendix A (pp. l°-2°).

  1. Pluralism of the reactions

Even with a preliminary reading of the bishops’ reactions, it becomes immediately clear that there is no single way of interpreting them. The different bishops’ conferences view HV in a variety of ways and in a variety of atmospheres. The problems to which they address themselves are often different in emphasis if not in substance. Thus, some bishops, in response to the Vatican’s wishes, concern themselves with making the papal teaching more convincing while others are more involved with the questions of authority and freedom of conscience. Fundamentally, there is a marked difference in the implicit theological and ecclesiological perspectives which underlie whatever the bishops say.

We might first consider the atmosphere in which the bishops were writing. We will cover this in more detail below, but here it is worthy to point out that while some bishops were simply putting forth a papal teaching as a matter of course, others found themselves embroiled in a plethora of difficulties. In some places, the question of birth control does not create many problems either because of the lack of demographic pressures or because of the general opinion that the matter is a decided one. (60) However, even in places where population growth seemed to be under control, the question of authority and freedom of conscience could still be a major issue. The bishops, therefore, were often addressing themselves to very different questions.

Next, the way in which HV was viewed by the bishops can be seen in the context of their statements. Some saw it primarily as a statement of authority, (61) and as a theological exposition by the church’s highest (teaching) authority. These bishops tended to appropriate the theology of the encyclical as their own and to put forth the same arguments as unquestionably valid, namely, the teachings on natural law, intrinsic dishonesty and an objective moral order. In light of this, the only non-erroneous decision of conscience would have to be one that basically agrees with the teaching of HV.

On the other hand, some, bishops saw the encyclical principally as a pastoral document, offered by the magisterium to aid the faithful in their christian behavior.(62)  While treating the pronouncement with the greatest respect, they often characterized it as a “guide” or “norm” that must be taken into consideration when christians make their own decision in conscience. Such a decision could possibly differ from the norm given in HV, but this did not necessarily imply that the conscience decision was an erroneous one. (63)

Another area in which care must be taken in the assessment of what the bishops wrote, deals with the sources which they used. The fact that many statements might refer to the same thing does not guarantee a uniformity of interpretation. It will be seen that most of the bishops at least mention the documents of the Second Vatican Council in their declarations  and pastorals. Most notably used are LG,25 and GS, Part II, Chapter I (especially para. 5 0 and 51). However, the use of the same document and even of the same quotation does not insure that the meaning attributed to this source is the same.

We will treat the use of Vatican II documents separately. Here we can mention another example with the references given to Populorum Progressio. C.E.L.A.M. and India are the only bishops in the first year to quote this encyclical, but eight other conferences specifically refer to it. (64)  However, the reason why the bishops use this reference is different. Brazil, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Portugal refer to that encyclical to draw attention to the importance of the demographic and social problems in the world today, while C.E.L.A.M. refers to it often in the whole social context. (65) But Yugoslavia and Spain refer to Populorum Progressio as a witness to the notion that HV’s condemnation of artificial contraception is a constant teaching of the church.

Similarly, eight conferences refer to the speech that Pope Paul made in Bogota on 24 August,1968. (66) Belgium, India and Poland give only passing references to the speech; C.E.L.A.M. and Puerto Rico say that Paul VI has a grasp of the need to regulate population growth; West Germany notes that the pope himself has called upon all to continue discussion of the problem so that the will of God become better known. In contrast, to this, the bishops of the Philippines use a reference to the speech as a call to defend the teaching of the magisterium, and Spain quotes it to affirm the primacy of the magisterium over individual study.(67)

Lastly, it is almost unanimously a fact that the bishops repeat what the pope wrote in HV. The way in which this is done, however, is significant. Some bishops say “this is what the pope said” and then repeat the teaching, nothing more. Others first give the position of the pope as an authentic statement to which must be given respect. They then go on to develop the teaching with their own idea of the issue, often introducing new ideas that clearly mitigate the papal position. Still others present the teaching and proceed into a long explanation of why it is a valid and authoritative pronouncement, binding in conscience. A couple even go so far as to defend it against its critics. (68)

  1. Convergence and grouping of the reactions

Again, it is necessary to point out that all the bishops of the world did not give a reaction to HV. The most widespread response came from the developed world with all the major Western European countries, the United States and Canada, and Australia, New Zealand and Japan giving some kind of public reaction to the encyclical. The communist countries gave little public reaction except for those states closely bordering Western Europe. Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia all officially responded, yet not in the same way.

In the Third World, Latin America was represented by C.E.L.A.M., with Colombia and Brazil, Mexico and Puerto Rico issuing statements of their own. Asia was represented by statements from India, Indonesia, Korea and the Philippines. Most of the rest of the near and far eastern world remained silent, leaving a great lacuna in assessing general reaction. Similarly quiet was the African continent. The few reactions we have from Dahomey, Rhodesia and Senegal, and in the later statements from South Africa, are hardly representative of wide feeling. But it will also be noted below that the situation in Africa is a very different one from most of the rest of the world.

Looking at this form of distribution does not give us a definitive tool for grouping the bishops’ reactions. It is true that generally speaking, the more fiscally successful countries in the developed world (69) found it difficult to accept HV without qualification, mostly because of arguments  put forth in regard to individual conscience. Here population is not a major problem and the concern of most people lies in regulating their own moral behavior. This is also the place in which the encyclical encountered its most sophisticated theological criticism. The four communist countries to respond include two of the most “conservative” statements written, from Poland and Yugoslavia, and two “uncertain” ones from Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Similarly, the reaction in the underdeveloped countries is equally diverse, constituting both theological and practical approaches, and raising questions which were certainly not as immediate in the developed world.

For all the reasons which we have touched upon since the beginning of this study, the pluralism of the reactions themselves would make it misleading to define the groups of bishops as belonging to one or another definite category. But we do need some kind of working model or tool with which we can assess the general reactions of the bishops. Such a tool will have to remain flexible and subject to change. With this in mind, I have placed the statements of the bishops into  three categories. It is the statements which I am grouping and not the bishops themselves, for it will be noticed that at least four episcopal conferences, Australia, Malta, Mexico and Indonesia, appear in more than one grouping.

The first statements, then, are those which clearly and totally accept HV and recommend it to their people exactly as it is written. This includes 21 documents from 18 countries.(70)  The second group are those who in some way or other clearly mitigate the teaching of HV on artificial contraception. This is done by the introduction of new arguments, extraneous to or directly counter to the encyclical, or by the presentation of papal teaching as only one of the many factors necessary for the formation of conscience. This group consists of 11 documents from 10 groups of bishops. (71)

The third group I have labelled “uncertain” and it consists mainly of bishops’ statements which do not fall into the other two groups. Virtually each one of these statements are in this category for a different reason. These reasons will hopefully become apparent and will be explicitly enumerated at the end of the analysis. This group consists of 9 documents from 9 groups of bishops. (72) The characteristic that links them positively in this group is the non-committal nature of the statements or the difficulty of  declaring them to be either “for” or “against” HV as it stands. While some of these, such as the statements from Brazil and the United States clearly put forth the encyclical’s teaching as a definitive statement, they also include some “catch” or mitigating factors that are not consciously applied to their position as a whole. In short, there is an inconsistency in the statements which leaves the impression that the bishops want to accept the encyclical totally but feel the need to be attentive to its major difficulties. A list of the statements according to categories is given in Appendix B (p. 3°) which includes as well the earlier and later statements of bishops. We will use this as a tool to understand how HV was received by the episcopacy who chose to express themselves.

  1. The background of the bishops’ collective statements

It is important to remember that none of the bishops’ statements were written in a vacuum. A variety of circumstances influenced both the situation in which HV was promulgated and the atmosphere surrounding the drafting of each bishops’ statement. Generally these two factors are related. In most cases, the bishops were sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of the people for whom they were writing. Such concerns were often reflected in what the bishops wrote. However, there are a few cases in which the bishops seem little concerned for the needs of the faithful or for the problems which the encyclical caused for their people.

Philippe Delhaye (73) mentions that one of the common characteristics to dominate the episcopal declarations was the pastoral concern (le souci pastoral) with which the bishops perceived uneasiness and distress in the reception of their faithful. Truly, most all the bishops recognized the fact that 1IV would cause difficulties for many, and some even considered the strength of these, difficulties as a factor mitigating the strictness of the papal teaching.(74)  In contrast to this, the first statements from India and Poland do not even mention these difficulties. The bishops of Ceylon seem totally insensitive to the great population pressures upon their people as individuals and limit their pastoral concern to a reminder that the church can always forgive sin. The Brazilian bishops, who present their social situation as one of “underpopulation” seem to see little cause for concern in the prohibition of contraception on a wide scale, although they do take the individual into account.

A compromise between these two positions seems to be a recognition of the fact that the full implementation of the demands of HV would necessitate sacrifices, “sometimes heroic ones,” as Card. Cicognani pointed out. This call  for sacrifice appears to be a keynote of those bishops who call upon their people  to fully accept the encyclical. The Brazilian bishops soften their general teaching by noting that they “realize and appreciate, as the Pope does, all the self-sacrifice, nay the heroism,” which will be necessary to remain “entirely faithful to Christ in a world where the sin and selfishness of many make Christian witness so difficult.” (75) Similar recognition comes from the bishops of Colombia, Malta, Mexico, Poland, Spain and Yugoslavia. But again an extreme position is approached by the Korean bishops who characterize the life of the christian essentially as a life of martyrdom (76) and the Irish bishops who write in their second, extended pastoral, “If it be objected that, this Christian teaching is an ideal for saints, not a practical programme for ordinary mortals, then it must be answered that Christianity is precisely a programme for making saints out of ordinary mortals. (77)

The pastoral concerns of the bishops are necessitated by the total situation in which they find themselves and their people. But the character of the situation has a bearing not only on what they wrote but on the meaning of their words as well. For instance, when the bishops of the developed world speak of the papal teaching as an “ideal” of christian  morality,(78) they are appealing to a rather intellectual argument most appreciated by the educated Catholic. On the other hand, when the bishops of Brazil, C.E.L.A.M., Indonesia and Mexico state or imply that HV represents an “ideal,” they encounter the risk of presenting morality as a goal  unreachable by the ordinary Catholic.

Before we can assess the extent to which the bishops may have taken their pastoral situation into account, we must first note the circumstances of those situations. After having done that, we can pay closer attention to the way in which their statements were drawn up. Finally, we must raise the important question of interpretation for ourselves and for those for whom the statements were intended.

  1. The questions and problems of the pastoral situations
  2. Demographic problems

The specific prohibition of artificial contraception contained in HV entails ramifications in at least three interrelated areas. The first two of these have to do with the problem of overpopulation as such and include the general level of socio-demographic problems and the practical necessity of limiting the size of the individual family. The third area contains the question of exercising responsible parenthood in situations which are less immediate in terms of survival. This last will be treated as a theological question.

On the wider level of demographic pressure, the bishops of the Third World faced a more acute problem than those of the developed countries. While the people of the developed world are apt to be more concerned with problems of population growth, as evidenced both by their own downward trend in demographic increase and their highly scientific investigation of the subject, it is the people of the underdeveloped countries who are more personally involved with a growing crisis of resource-shortage and overcrowding.  This very real situation placed the bishops of these numerous peoples in a special situation. Perhaps it is significant in itself that the percentage of bishops responding to the encyclical from overpopulated countries is much smaller than those from developed countries with stable populations.

The study of demography will immediately show the great complexity of the problems of overpopulation. Those who are unfamiliar with this science will tend to have a simplistic view of the situation, and even the demographic scientists themselves are rarely unanimous in deciding if and where a specific problem is evident. A simple case such as India which stands as the Western stereotype of an overpopulated country is often not applicable to the general situation. Thus we must distinguish between the obvious situation of demographic pressure and a more subtle form of overpopulation.

In the first instance we find certain countries (79) such as Colombia, India, Ceylon and the Philippines and Puerto Rico to a small extent, where overcrowding and lack of resources are a major concern of the people and consequently of the government. In such a situation, most of the bishops were put in a position of either lessening the impact of HV’s prohibitions or making statements that seemed inconsistent or even contradictory. With the exception of the Philippines, which as noted above seemed to write a more theological defence of the encyclical than a pastoral letter, all of the bishops in these countries were forced to recognize the fact that while the papal teaching may be a necessary norm for all to follow, there were other factors which must be considered in light of christian responsibility. The way in which this is done, however, is sometimes ambiguous. The bishops of Ceylon fully endorsed the encyclical for implementation and recommended the government’s program for birth control with the stipulation that the means used must conform to Catholic teaching. In Puerto Rico, the bishops put forth a confusing document in which they fully uphold the letter of the papal teaching but explicitly teach tolerance in regard to the presence and distribution of contraceptive information. (80)

With regard to a more subtle form of demographic problem, we encounter situations in which, although there may be a very real problem of population growth, the lack of official, governmental recognition of the problem diminished its significance. Aside from the situation in Africa which constitutes more of a cultural problem, the bishops of Brazil and Mexico were in this difficult situation. The Brazilian situation is one in which, on the one hand, there is an official governmental stance, reflected by the bishops, that population growth is not a problem but a goal to be reached. Here is a classic case of demographic complexity wherein the total national population seems small in comparison to the size of the country, but the figures are misleading when one considers that two thirds (68.3%) of the population in 1970 lived in urban areas of more than 20,000 inhabitants. This problem is characteristic of most of South America where urbanization and disproportionate distribution of wealth play a more important role in demographic problems than sheer numbers. (81)

On the other hand, there is a more realistic demographic problem faced by the individuals of such a society who do not have the means to support large families irregardless of the overall situation in their country. This is the more personal problem of responsible parenthood faced from a practical perspective rather than from the sometimes abstract point of view held by many people living in comfortable surroundings. This special situation permitted the bishops of Brazil to give a forthright endorsement to HV while taking note of the “heroic” sacrifices demanded of their people and encouraging them to remain faithful to a Christianity of “compassion and amiability.” (82)

The case of the Mexican bishops is equally interesting in that the official government position was that there was no problem with population. Again this position is reflected by the bishops who take a “hard line” in interpreting HV and even recommend that a priest who cannot accept the teaching should “ask to be relieved of his duties rather than sow distrust of the magisterium by the dubious way he has of expressing himself or of not  expressing himself.” (83) Simultaneously, the bishops recognize the problems of their poor and deprived, but ascribe all these difficulties to a lack of social and economic development. By shifting the responsibility for  these poor social conditions away from large families and on to social, economic development, the bishops were able to avoid explicitly questioning the morality of contraception. We will see a very interesting  development take place in the position of these bishops four years later when the official government position radically changed. (84)

The reverse of demographic pressure can be explicitly found outside of Africa in only one episcopal document, notable that from Czechoslovakia which said, “In our country it is imperative to realize that with two children  per family, we are in a real danger of extinction.” (85) This same stance seems to be echoed in the second Polish statement which placed a high value on human life and which takes as its keynote the saying of St. Irenaeus, “Glory be to God that man lives.” (86) While these documents take totally different general view’s of HV, both may have been influenced by highly systematic programs of family planning instituted by their respective governments. The issue here was less involved with the papal teaching than it was with a family policy dictated by government. The same may be said of the bishops of Yugoslavia whose equally forceful defence of the encyclical may have been motivated by the church’s relationship to the dictates of strong communist governments – a pressure that was less effective on the bishops of East Germany whose ties with the West allowed them to take a more open, theological position.

Finally, we would have to summarize that while demographic problems certainly influenced the thinking of the bishops in their response to HV, it would be wrong to assume that this influence always operated in the same way. Indeed the pressures which population problems may have caused were just as complex as the problems themselves. The underlying fact is that demographic problems, the needs of the people and the weight of governmental policies did have an influence on whatever the bishops wrote. As the case of the Mexican bishops will later indicate, the influence of public policy upon moral teaching seems to be as important as the influence of teaching upon policy, at least in the area of contraception as a means of family planning. One notable exception we will see in the bishop’s positive assessment of HV is the unanimous condemnation of abortion, no matter what the official government policy.

  1. Socio-cultural factors

In parallel to what we have just stated concerning the relationship of bishops’ statements to governmental policy on birth control, it is worth mentioning the large degree of concern that the bishops express over the role of government in influencing family planning. This appeal of the encyclical itself (HV,23) is repeated by more than half of the bishops who responded. (87) It is equally interesting to notice that this concern cuts across social and political boundaries. Like the condemnation of abortion, the bishops as a group give whole-hearted approval to the warning of direct governmental interference in the area of personal decisions. Such an issue seems to be a fundamental concern of all; not necessarily the question of policy, but rather the direct intervention in a decision of conscience.

But there are other factors which are more geographically and ideologically specific and must consequently be taken into account in our study. (88) A first factor concerns the countries of Asia in which Christians are distinctly in a minority. This factor alone would influence a certain amount of caution for the bishops whose statements would be open to criticism from non-Christian and often pro-communist factions of society. But oddly, the socio-cultural situations of these countries were not always a negative influence. It would seem that only in the Philippines was there a need felt to preserve the specifically Catholic body of doctrine at any cost while in India and Indonesia the problems of a “Catholic identity” were sufficiently worked out in advance of HV. India constituted a special case of episcopal response in that the bishops themselves were unable to arrive at any unified position in the first months. (89) A first document which was non-committal toward the whole issue was apparently superseded by a later document which the bishops endorsed. This grew out of the “All India Seminar” held at Bangalore, 15-25 May 1969, which included lay as well as religious and episcopal participation. This document was much less concerned with a strict  interpretation of the encyclical than the original statement of the Bishops’ Permanent Commission  and gave more weight to the problems of conflicts of conscience and the  situation of the spouses themselves. (90)

Another special case in Asia is found in Japan. Japanese Catholics are a minority of the population, but the cohabitant religions were less a problem in Catholic response to the encyclical than a factor in creating a positive atmosphere. The religions and social practices of the Japanese have traditionally placed a very high importance on self-control and an ascetic approach to life. A conscious approach to birth control in such an atmosphere would place emphasis upon abstinence, total or periodic, rather than on the intervention of artificial means. In a way, Buddhism and Shintoism are sometimes stricter than Catholic moral teaching. These cultural influences would create a very different atmosphere for the reception of the encyclical.

Yet Japan does exhibit a grave population problem, the remedy for which is very frequently abortion. The short statement of the Japanese hierarchy mentions the problem of abortion and, in conjunction with other developed countries, the warning against relying upon technical means to solve human problems. In effect, the episcopal statement is rather “liberal” but their socio-cultural atmosphere has led the Japanese to take a muted stand on the question of contraception in general, both in reaction to HV and in world politics, such as at the United Nations World Population Conference at Bucharest,in August 1974. (91)

Moving to Latin America, we must notice that the problems faced by the church in this more developed part of the Third World do not center upon contraception as such. To read the report of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference, C.E.L.A.M., is to see summarized the complex problems facing the family in this culture. Because of social and economic pressures, the major problems of the family are instability, infidelity, illegitimacy and abortion, all of which are aggravated by underdevelopment, illiteracy and urbanization. In such an atmosphere the question of regulating births is less important than larger and more radical threats to the family. Even if contraception were permitted outright, it would only alleviate a symptom of the overall problem. Thus, C.E.L.A.M. reaction to HV at one time encourages the encyclical’s call for socio-economic development and a responsible program of family planning while it minimizes the teaching on contraception.

Perhaps the most difficult situation for the economically privileged of the world to comprehend is that of the African continent. This anomaly of cultural mixtures presents a completely different atmosphere than the rest of the world. Besides the fact that Catholics are in a minority of the population, the range of cultures and socio-economic situations had vastly different influences upon the reactions to HV. Of the four representative  statements that we have from Africa, two, namely those from Rhodesia and South  Africa, could hardly be said to be representative of the rest of the continent because of the high degree of European influence in these countries  brought about by the dominance of white leadership.

In contrast to these two, many of the emerging “nationalist” countries of Africa have placed a great emphasis upon maintaining their own customs and “mores” and resist the imposition of an external force. The resulting situation has made for great sensitivity toward outside, particularly Western, influences. For this reason, the bishops of Dahomey and Senegal seized upon the promulgation of HV as an opportunity to denounce programs of family planning which are often introduced by the Western world in conjunction with their programs of economic aid. While the same could be said of the Latin American reactions, in Africa the thrust of the argument is that there is no population problem. It is not surprising, therefore, that the encyclical was accepted by the few responding voices.

Archbishop Gantin of Cotonou, Dahomey, for example, says that there is no population problem in his country which has only 21 inhabitants per square kilometer. (92) This outlook is certainly influential, especially when a large number of births is necessary to counter a high mortality rate, which is generally the case in many African nations. (93) Such a situation would naturally make calls for an active program of birth regulation sound like “imperialistic neo-colonialism.”

Another cultural factor to be considered is raised by Archbishop Hyacinthe Thiandoum of Dakar, Senegal. He notes in his pastoral that the church’s teaching on birth control respects the traditional structures of African life and sexual morality. While this may be questionable in terms of the general picture of sexual morality, the papal prohibition of artificial contraception was not only not a difficulty for most non-urban Africans, but the very concept of artificial contraception is nearly unthinkable for many of them. A totally accepting reaction to HV, therefore,would hardly seem surprising from bishops sensitive to this pastoral situation.

Lastly, we may raise the question of the cultural situation in some developed countries. Many countries of the Western world are pluralistic in their composition and repel any strict categorization. Even the traditional notion of “Catholic country” is rapidly changing as many of these people learn to tolerate and even appropriate very different points of view, both cultural and religious. Perhaps Spain and Portugal form exceptions to this trend, but their political situations at the time the encyclical was issued could possibly have had an influence on the type of expression or dissent that came forth from the church in these countries. Both the Spanish and Portugese bishops take a position of complete congruence with the “authoritative teaching.”

By contrast, Ireland constitutes the closest thing to a homogeneous Catholic country of any significant size. Again, it would be misleading to extend the notion of homogeneity too far, but a form of freely accepted “Catholic identity” has encouraged a sense of identification with the sensus romanus, In considering the broad scope of the whole culture, we would definitely find objections to the papal teaching on artificial contraception. But in examining the reactions of the hierarchy, one cannot escape the highly traditional perspective of the bishops’ teaching.

The first reaction of the Irish bishops, issued 9 Oct. 1968,(96) is a short statement containing little more than an expression of concern for the difficulties that the papal decision would cause for some and a reinforcement of the authority with which the pope speaks. Their second Pastoral  Letter of 16 Feb. 1969, (97) however, is an extended homily on their understanding of Catholic marriage. In this letter, the bishops seem to ignore even the apparent development in the papal teaching on marriage by explicitly affirming that offspring are the ultimate end of marriage. Since the promulgation of GS, the church as a whole and to some extent Pope Paul in HV, very obviously avoid the listing of the “ends” of marriage in the order of “primary and secondary.” (98) Yet when reading the statement of the Irish bishops, we find:

The ultimate purpose and the normal effect of Christian marriage is to bring children into the world for the worship of God, in time and in eternity; in other words, the supreme privilege of marriage is to increase the Eucharistic Community.

The Council of Florence, in the fifteenth century, said that the first good of marriage was “the begetting of children and their education to the  worship of God.” We have said that the supreme purpose of marriage is to gather worshippers around the Eucharistic altar on earth and the Throne of God in Heaven. (99)

Also worth noting is the bishops’ development in sect. 9 of their pastoral (100)of the repercussions that would result if the church were to change its teaching on contraception. Here we find ideas which are strikngly similar to the “minority report” of the Pontifical Birth Control Commission and which base the whole of the church’s teaching on sexual morality on the procreative meaning of human sexuality. At the risk of losing an objective evaluatiori of our topic, I would be tempted to say that the second statement of the Irish bishops is more of a response to Casti Connubii. than to HV.

c. Theological factors and questions

1) The influence of the theological community

More specific than the pastoral situation to which the bishops addressed  their reactions to HV is the theological atmosphere within which they wrote.  The theology and ecclesiology of the bishops themselves will be indicated in an analysis of their actual reactions, but here we can raise two questions. First, was there a significant influence exerted by the theological community in which the bishops wrote, and secondly, did this influence affect the freedom of consensus among the bishops themselves?

As we noted above, it was principally in the more developed countries that the episcopal reactions to the encyclical achieved a more theological type of response. By “theological” here we mean a more reflective and explicit exposition of the dogmatic and moral argumentation used to either reinforce or mitigate the teaching of the pope and his authoritative role in the church. This kind of approach was not limited solely to the more developed countries, but it was certainly found there as a very consistent ‘ and important factor. This is perhaps the case because of the greater number of universities and theological resources available in the advanced countries.

There appears to be a distinct parallel between the bishops who hesitated to accept the papal teaching on artificial contraception totally and the countries in which adherence to the traditional teaching in this matter was questioned before the promulgation of HV. In Belgium and the Netherlands, for instance, there had already been significant speculation that the official position of the church in this teaching was open to further evolution. This outlook was reiterated in the form of disappointment expressed publicly to the bishops after the encyclical was issued. (101)

The significance and scope of these two cases, however, cannot be taken as normative for two reasons. First, although there may have been other parallel situations of episcopal hesitation and theological questioning In other countries, (102) the existence of theological dissent was nowhere unanimous, but was often balanced by a similarly vocal acceptance of the encyclical. Further, the parallel we have mentioned only worked in one direction. That is, if the bishops who tended to mitigate the teaching of HV were often exposed to an active opposition to the papal decision by some theologians, it cannot be said that significant theological opposition always influenced the bishops in their reactions to the encyclical. Active opposition to the encyclical could be found in Italy, England, Australia and the United States, but the strength of this dissent had a questionable amount of influence upon the bishops.

The second reason why there is no direct congruence between the episcopal statements and the reaction of the theological communities will help to answer our second question. In examining both the bishops statements and the arguments put forth by theologians, one cannot avoid being aware of the diversity of approaches both within and between these two groups. Those who sought to nuance the teaching of HV, or place it in a wider context, did so in a variety of ways. A close reading of the arguments put forth both for and against the encyclical shows a wide range of opinion on both the authority and moral questions. However much the bishops themselves were influenced by this sometimes academic input, they were still free to accept or reject the conclusions of others when writing their own statements.(103) We can note that there are frequently agreements with theologians on what the bishops wrote positively on the content of the encyclical, but there is a marked diversity on any negative or hesitating position they may have which differed from the papal teaching.

2) The isolated question of contraception

While some bishops faced pastoral questions that dealt with the immediate survival and well-being of their people in face of demographic pressures, others lived and spoke in situations which were less influenced by these immediate demands. With the possible exclusion of Japan, which has a significant lack of natural resources to support a very dense population, most of the countries of the developed world face problems of overpopulation which introduce inconvenience in, or impair enjoyment of, the quality of life, but rarely threaten the survival of the individual or the family. In this circumstance, the papal prohibition against artificial contraception raised very different questions.

The more fortunate peoples of the world approach the question of birth regulation within a given socio-cultural situation. In some ways, a case can be made that the pressures which they experience to limit the size of their families are proportionately as significant as the factors influencing the decisions of those in some poorer parts of the world. But the fact remains that their concerns and perspectives are different. Furthermore, it is within this context that the more abstract questions of “natural law,” “intrinsic disorder” and “ontic and moral evil” will be raised and the issue of contraception will be approached more from the perspective of moral reasoning-than from that of practical necessity.

A question which the bishops in this pastoral situation had to face was at once unique and at the same time touching the heart of the church’s teaching on responsible parenthood. Namely, is it morally justifiable for a couple to limit the size of their family entirely for reasons of preference or personal desire? To respond to this question, the bishops often gave a more elaborate account of the moral teaching on christian marriage, often highly influenced by that found in GS, 47-52.

The French bishops characterized this situation as they drew attention to what they termed “the contraceptive mentality.”

The contraceptive mentality, which has already done so much harm to France, will find itself intensified by contraception that is more and more widespread and accepted as normal. One must be disturbed by an opinion that today discredits the large family. Is it not true that the large family when it is willed by generosity, is, by that fact, more educative? (104)

However, this quote is immediately followed by a reminder that the papal teaching does not encourage an imprudent multiplication of births. Referring to both HV,10 and to GS,50, they remind us that the decision to have I children is one which must be reached by prudent and mature dialogue between spouses, taking into consideration all the relevant factors.

d. Summary

The significance of these multiple pastoral situations is a necessary factor in interpreting both what the bishops wrote and how their words were interpreted. When the bishops address people in overpopulated, underdeveloped countries with the idea that marriage has a twofold function, conjugal love and the procreation and education of children, they can be reminding the faithful that having children is not the only purpose of marriage and that being able to raise and educate children in a human atmosphere  should be a major factor in their decision for a new birth. On the other hand, when the bishops of non-overpopulated and frequently very advanced societies seek to enunciate the same concept, they can be drawing attention to the fact that procreation is intimately bound up with human marriage and sexuality, and that children should be looked upon as a gift and a blessing.

Similarly, the argument used in HV concerning the nature of marriage and sexuality as a “design established by the Creator,” (HV,13) could possibly be understood by the former group of people as a statement of the inviolability and sanctioning of their own social and familial situation. The latter group, however, might well be reminded by their episcopal teachers that there should be a limit to man’s technological manipulation of his entire environment and even his own person.

In summary, then, we must note that the bishops’ reactions to HV took place not simply within the context of episcopal-papal dialogue, but were very much part of, and influenced by, the pastoral situation in which the bishops found themselves. It would be a misinterpretation to read these statements of the church hierarchies in a vacuum and with only one perspective in mind. It is to the credit of many, but not all, the bishops that they put forth the encyclical itself with a genuine pastoral sensitivity to the needs of their people.

2. The bishops’ method of composing their statement

a. Local collegiality

There is a scarcity of documentation on the background and methods that the bishops themselves used for drawing up their statements on HV. In some cases we may have reports from outside sources concerning the work of the bishops prior to and during their meetings which resulted in a statement. But often we must rely on the statements themselves to indicate the nature of their preparation.

In the former case, we can mention the example of Douglas Roche’s reports On the work of the Canadian bishops. In two articles (105) he outlines and applauds the bishops’ use of collegial methods in writing their statement. The bishops met  in Winnipeg in late September 1968 and their administrative board ruled that the same procedures used at the Vatican I Council would be followed. This entailed the formation of a theological commission with appointed “periti” who not only represented religious, 1 medical and lay participation but took care to include the voice of many who protested the encyclical. The commission drafted a preliminary text which was given to the bishops for debate and vote. After overcoming what appeared to be an impass of disagreement, the text was significantly amended and resubmitted for approval which it received. The methods of dialogue brought about a compromise which balanced expressed solidarity with the pope with an equally strong solidarity with the people of God, and the acceptance of the encyclical’s teaching on marriage with no endorsement of the controversial ban on artificial contraception (HV,14).(106)

This type of collegiality was admittedly rare in the formation of many statements,  in that lay and actively dissenting voices were able to participate in the final episcopal declaration. The case of the Netherlands has already been mentioned as well as the situation in India where “full church dialogue” was virtually imposed upon the bishops. (107) However, most bishops preferred to meet and work among themselves, sometimes with the aid of their own local theologians. The methods they used were sometimes referred to or implied in their statements.

The question of collegial methods used by the bishops in their reactions constitutes the first justification of our grouping of the episcopal statements. It is significant that most all the reactions that appear in the group which “mitigates” the teaching on contraception give reference to the fact that this reaction represents the collective work of the entire episcopal conference. (108) While statements in the other two categories can also be seen as representing all the bishops of a given area,the bishops themselves give little importance to the need for episcopal consensus. In the first group many bishops specifically deny the need for collegial decisions, (109) but it cannot be denied that some bishops had a free and open consensus to completely endorse the entire teaching of the encyclical.(110) The formation of episcopal consensus in no way guaranteed that the bishops would hesitate to accept this papal teaching completely,but it does seem to be a characteristic of the more “liberal” statements.
b. Attention to the sensus fidelium
The controversial questions involved in discussing the role of the sensus fidelium in the formation of Catholic doctrine are worthy of independent study both generally and in particular regard to the reception of HV. Here, however, we are only interested in establishing if the thoughts and feelings of the church as a whole played any part in the episcopal reactions to the encyclical.

We would first make a distinction between the bishops’ recognition that the ban on artificial contraception would cause difficulties for some of the faithful and demand “heroic sacrifices,” and the fact that some bishops pay explicit attention to the thoughts of the faithful when writing their statements. The former situation was already mentioned as a form of pastoral concern(111) but the latter is more forthrightly a case of attention to consensus opinion.

Once again, the statements which exhibit a clear acceptance of the encyclical (See Appendix B, Group A), either do not credit the expression of negative opinion or actively repudiate the significance of any dissenting voices. The bishops of Spain go so far as to attach resistance to the encyclical to “the more pagan sectors of the modern world,” (112) and the Philippine statement attributes what they consider to be a small minority who dissent due to “the prejudices of propaganda.” Indeed, the bishops tell us that if we are free from such “propaganda,” the encyclical “cannot fail to convince the reader of the soundness of the position the Holy Father has taken.” (113)

On the other hand, many of the bishops who take a softer approach to HV clearly acknowledge the credibility of differing voices. The Indonesian bishops even write in their letter to Pope Paul that some of the bishops themselves “do not feel that they are entirely convinced by the argumentation of the encyclical.” (114) In their official statements, the bishops of France, Netherlands and Switzerland specifically mention that their thoughts were directly influenced by a wide consultation with religious, lay and scientific members of the community in preparation for their declarations. Others can equally be seen as open to a continuing dialogue with the faithful on these matters and incorporate this perspective into their reactions. (115)

Another factor which can be used to judge the bishops’ attitudes toward the sensus fidelium is their position on those who cannot in conscience accept the encyclical, and their general attitude toward dissent from papal teaching. This will be handled in our treatment of authority and conscience and is too specific to include here as a background factor in the reactions. It should suffice to point out, however, that attention to the “lively debate” which was initiated by HV is not necessarily equivalent to crediting the expression of opinion with theological significance. Pope Paul has himself taken note of this exchange of ideas’ (116) and some have even tried to say that the pope has given us the spirit in which we should be open to new findings(117). But hearing what others say is not the same as listening to them seriously. Only some of the bishops have reacted to the  encyclical while listening to the reactions of others in the church.

c.  Relationship between the bishops’ reactions

Because the reactions of the bishops cover a large period of time and most of their statements were widely published, it was inevitable that there would be some interaction between the reactions themselves. Mexico (2) and Puerto Rico tell us that they have taken into account the work of ether episcopal conferences, and Austria names the Belgian, German and Italian statements as forerunners of their own, but does not specifically refer to any of them. The Spanish bishops quote the statement from England and Wales, but the brevity of their quote is misleading and removes the statement from its original context. (118)

The Belgian declaration is quoted twice by other bishops. In the first instance the English/Welsh statement removes a quote from its proper context but does not do as much damage to the Belgian statement as the Spanish did to their own. (119)   The Indonesian bishops, in their letter to the clergy, quote a different part of the Belgian statement which accurately represents the meaning of the passage. (120)  This passage, on the dissent of one who is competent, is frequently echoed in the writings of many other bishops who put forth the same idea, whether or not inspired by the early Belgian statement. (121)

Other ideas can also be seen to run through many of the bishops’ statements, but it is difficult to judge if this is due to interaction or the use of common sources. In the case of those thoughts and expressions which basically agree with HV, and are faithful to this and other Vatican sources,(122) it would be impossible to speculate on the relations between the bishops themselves. But the introduction of some new idea or emphasis could possibly be traced to this relation. The notion that HV represents an “ideal” of christian morality, for example, is usually attributed to the intervention of the Italian bishop. (123) The idea recurs in the statements from some nine other countries, at least implicitly. (124)

The notion of a conflict of duties or conscience, first mentioned by the Belgians, recurs in the statements from Canada, England/Wales, France, Indonesia, Italy and the United States. Finally, another Belgian notion, that one who by reason of conscience violates the ban on contraception  should not feel “separated from the love of God,” (125) returns in one form or another from Austria, Canada, Italy, Japan, and Switzerland in the statements during the first year.

The significance of this episcopal interaction must be attributed to the Notion of world-wide collegiality. Performing an exegesis on these statements with the view of attributing an idea that goes beyond the encyclical to the position of only one original episcopal conference would not be valid because repetition of an idea in another conference statement represents appropriation and endorsement of that idea.


  1. The problem of communication

In conclusion to this section of our work on the background of these reactions to HV, we should keep in mind the problems of interpretation and communication which are present in assessing these statements.

On the one hand, we have the perspective of the bishops themselves, influenced by their own theological and ecclesiological views. Each of the bishops read the encyclical with his own notions of morality, authority and the magisterium in mind and he viewed the reactions of the faithful with much the same perspective. These factors were necessarily influential in the composition of the official episcopal statements on HV.

On the other hand, the demands of the pastoral situations in which the bishops found themselves had a large influence on the results of many bishops’ work. Not only were there quite specific questions and problems to which they addressed themselves, but a significant sensitivity to the feelings and needs of their people made many episcopal statements both relevant and meaningful. Where this occurred, we can be attentive to what are sometimes very carefully worded statements and ask ourselves not only what they mean, but what did the bishops intend to be understood by what they wrote.

c. The bishops use of the documents of Vatican II in their reactions to HV

The purpose of this section is not to give a completely detailed summary of each conciliar text which the bishops chose to quote or refer to in their reactions to HV. Rather it is a textual overview of the most frequently used texts and how they are used. In Appendix C, we have listed all the passages to which the episcopal statements refer, including more precise references to the most quoted documents (viz. pp. 4°-10°). This will be used as a tool in our observations but we will concentrate on three sets of the most quoted texts.

Since some very explicit work has already been done on how the encyclical itself has used part of the teaching of Vatican II, and we will devote more time to this topic in Chapter Four, this is intended to be a preparation for discussion on how the bishops implemented the Council’s ideas. Our textual analysis is centered on three sets of texts coming from the three most quoted documents, namely, “The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes = GS), “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (Lumen Gentium = LG) and “The Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae = DH).

  1. The use of GS,16 and DH,3

There are two texts which some bishops use with reference to the Council’s teaching on conscience, the section on the dignity of the moral conscience as found in the first chapter of Part One of GS, on the dignity of the human, person (GS,16) and a section from the general principles set down in. the first chapter of DH (DH,3). The first is quoted by bishops from four countries and the second referred to by five episcopal statements.(127)  Considering that two of these quote both texts, there are seven bishops conferences which utilize them.

Examining the texts involved, it is clear that this teaching of Vatican II is a rather open and personalistic one, the promulgation of which balances nicely with the Council’s teaching on the need for authority (see below, the sections on LG,25 and DH,14). It is not surprising then that six of the seven bishops’ groups that refer to the texts are statements which are not characterized by total acceptance of HV. The bishops who clearly accepted the encyclical and all its arguments tended to avoid discussions of conscience as Vatican II saw it and concentrated their notion of the individual’s rights and duties strictly within the context of authority and obedience.

The statement from the Philippines would seem to be an exception to this until it is given closer examination. When these bishops quote the second paragraph of GS,16, they quote the first and last sentences (English translation) and leave out the important middle part. (128)         This changes the meaning of the quotation when they put it into their own context. GS,16 teaches us about the communitive search for objective moral norms; the Philippine bishops tell us that the Council teaches the need for conforming conscience to norms already decided (by the magisterium).

Similarly, the two places where these bishops quote DH,3 (129) are characterized by the juxtaposition of this conciliar teaching with their notion of authority (based on an interpretation of I,G,25). These two concepts, they say, seem opposed, but cannot be. The way in which the bishops solve this problem is to equally juxtapose the notions of “right” and “duty.”

We cannot suppose that what the council says in one place, it discards in another place. Therefore, the only sensible answer is to say that the ‘right to form judgment of conscience’ is delimited by the duty to ‘adhere sincerely’ to the judgments of the supreme magisterium, even when they are not given ex cathedra. The right is not absolute; it is conditioned by a duty. We do not have to be told that there is no right enjoyed by man in this world which is not limited by a duty. (130)

This case of interpreting the documents of Vatican II is fortunately not imitated by many other episcopal statements. The fact that the Council said two things which may co-exist in tension, does not imply either that the tension can or should be resolved or that it was not intended.

Generally speaking, however, the use of GS,16 and DH,3 is characteristic of an episcopal position that substantiates the need for an individual decision in conscience as the basis for christian moral behavior, a teaching which will reverberate in the Council’s teaching on marriage. This activity of conscience, subsequently, will come face to face with the pronouncement of Pope Paul on the morality of contraception – the status of which is referred to by other conciliar texts. Those bishops who either did not question the papal teaching on contraception or who took a defensive stand against the critics of the encyclical, tended to avoid the Council’s teaching on conscience.

  1. The use of LG,25 and DH,14

LG,25 is one of the most quoted and referred to texts of Vatican II, along with GS,50, in the episcopal reactions to HV. (131)The Belgian and West German bishops were the first to refer to this text and it became the source text for almost every episcopal discussion on the authoritative status of HV. The frequent repetition of this text, however, does not always guarantee a clear interpretation of its meaning.

The first problem posed by episcopal use of LG,25 is the fact that while over half the bishops use it, none draw attention to the context within which it is situated. Even Pope Paul, in his encyclical’s single reference to LG,25 (HV,28, n. 39), interprets the thrust of the document in a more collegial way than the bishops do. The context of the conciliar text is, in fact, the role of the bishops in the church. Paul appeals to this aspect in HV to represent the fact that his teaching is – or should be –the teaching of all the bishops (Pastors) of the church.

Why is it, then, that the bishops do not join themselves to this teaching in complete solidarity with the pope, as LG,25 indicates as an ideal? In the reactions to HV, we see only the Italians quote the very first sentence of paragraph two and only Austria, England/Wales and the United States quote any other reference to bishops contained in LG,25. The remainder of the bishops use the document strictly in its reference to the papal role in the magisterium.

We can further ask why most of the bishops do not explain more fully the meaning of the phrase “religious submission of will and of mind”? We will see in the discussion of the role of conscience that the bishops often have very different ideas on how conscience does or ought to manifest itself. In our present context, we can point out that for those statements which clearly accept the encyclical, “submission” usually means unquestioning acceptance. Those bishops who hesitate to totally endorse some point of the encyclical usually interpret “submission” in terms of respect and reverence.

Only six hierarchies (132) refer to DH,14 which is a statement to the effect that the church is the teacher of the truth and the guarantor of the moral order. This general statement can be used in many ways and works as a kind of punctuation, a stamp of approval, to any foregoing or following statement. The French bishops use this reference to strengthen the truth of the church’s integral vision of man and the English/Welsh  statement refers it to the general idea of the church as moral teacher.(133) But Australia, Ireland, Philippines and Scotland all use this passage to characterize the secondary role of conscience and its necessary submission to the teaching authority of the church. (134)

It seems problematic, then, for the bishops to try to link the authoritative status of HV with the teaching of Vatican II. Most do refer to what may be the single text in these, documents that refers to non-infallible, non-ex cathedra papal teachings in order to situate the encyclical in the collective teachings of the church. But it remains true, that even after quoting LG,25, the issue is still not a clear one. Once the teaching has been put forth as authentic and serious, the question remains, for some,about the response of conscience. Even LG,25 nuances the relationship of conscience and authority by the phrase “religious assent,” and avoids a rationalistic approach based totally upon notional or logical agreement.

For some bishops, the direction of conscience is determined as soon as authority speaks. For others, however, the issue is by no means resolved by one authoritative statement; for still others, there are other authoritative statements to be considered as well, namely, the teaching of GS on marriage and the family.

  1. The use of GS, 50 and 51

The council fathers addressed themselves to the nobility of marriage and the family in Chapter One of the second, more concrete part of GS. But interest in this document centered on two paragraphs in particular in the reactions to HV, namely, GS, 50 and 51, on the fruitfulness of conjugal love and its respect for life. Ten episcopal statements quote or make specific reference to other parts of the chapter.        These bishops also seem to have a more developed theology of marriage in their declarations, and it is noteworthy that few of the episcopal statements which totally accept the encyclical refer to the wider conciliar teaching on marriage. (136)Also, it may be significant that while twelve statements make specific reference to GS,51 and eighteen to GS,50, not one of the reactions to the encyclical makes reference to the famous footnote 14 of GS,51. (137)

The conciliar teaching on marriage appears to be a dynamic one inspired by a fundamentally personalistic morality, (138) rooted in biblical theology and a modern anthropology of the individual and of the institution of marriage. These themes are developed in GS, 47-49 and applied to some general questions in paragraphs 50 and 51. Within this orientation, the Pastoral Constitution takes a broad view of marriage, affirms the twofold aspect of conjugal love and procreation and education, and builds a foundation for applying these teachings to some concrete questions. (139)

In examining the use which the bishops make of this source in their reactions to HV, we can see two distinct trends. The first is to attempt to recall the fullness of the Council’s teaching on marriage and emphasize the necessity to appreciate all that the fathers chose to say on this topic. This is the approach of the bishops of C.E.L.A.M., France, Indonesia and the U.S.A. who quote liberally from the Council’s documentation, and those from Belgium, Italy and Switzerland who put forth many of the Constitution’s ideas without directly quoting it. This trend is also implied in the accentuation of the positive aspects of the encyclical which is a major theme of most of the episcopal reactions.

The other trend is to quote the documents, here GS, 50 and 51 in particular, in a selective way. This, unfortunately, is the approach of the majority of bishops. Many episcopal statements refer only to a single paragraph of GS,50 specifying the spouses’ need to be attentive to the divine law and the church’s teaching authority which interprets that law, (140) and to the parallel paragraph in GS,51 on the need to approach the question of regulating procreation by avoiding methods “which are found blameworthy by the  teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law.” (141)

The selective use of GS, 50 and 51 is understandable if we assume that the bishops went to these documents specifically looking for texts relating to the issue raised by the encyclical. To be sure, these are the only relevant texts, but like the other sources which were used, these exist in a given context. When HV refers to GS, it tends to lift its references from their context. Similarly, when the episcopal statements tend to put forth the encyclical exactly as it stands, they also tend to lift the references from their surrounding ideas.

  1. Summary

A purely textual criticism of the bishops’ use of the conciliar documents in their reactions to HV cannot be taken as exhaustive in respect to the general episcopal orientation toward the meaning and significance of these documents. Here we have attempted to draw attention to the specific sources which were used and highlight some of the problems involved both in assessing the bishops’ relation to Vatican II or interpreting how they used the relevant material. A fuller understanding of the role which the Council’s teachings played in the episcopal statements depends upon an attentive reading of those statements. In that reading we will often find that the “spirit” of the Council is a much more important source in these reactions and that attention to that “spirit” is not always present, even when the Council is directly quoted.

Our study of how the bishops specifically reacted to HV will hopefully show the perspective that each episcopal conference has toward the questions of contraception and the role of authority in moral teaching. The terms in which the bishops try to explain these issues and the interpretation which they give to the papal encyclical will indicate where the bishops themselves stand. Since GS and HV were separated by only two and one half years, the documents were inevitably to be compared. Some bishops, as the pope himself, saw the two as totally complementary.

Others, perhaps sensing a different spirit behind the Council documents, were apparently not so convinced of their compatibility.


With these background observations in mind, we can now turn to the statements themselves and analyse exactly what the bishops wrote. At the end of our analysis we will attempt to correlate the background factors with these findings and assess the moral and ecclesiological perspectives implied by episcopal reaction to HV. This done, we can return to some of these issues for a fuller development.

Go to Chapter 2
or return to index.



  1. Much has been written about the Pontifical Birth Control Commission, especially after its findings were published in 1957. For examples of this writing in the post-Humanae Vitae perspective, see W.H. Shannon, The Lively Debate: Response to Humanae Vitae (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1970), pp. 12-13, 76-104; N. St. John-Stevas, The Agonizing Choice: Birth Control, Religion and the Law (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1971), pp. 107, 115-29. For a more detailed discussion of the Commission and the encyclical, see Chapter Four, below.
  2. AAS 56(1964), pp. 581-89. A portion of this talk delivered to 27 Cardinals (cf. Shannon, Ibid., p. 12) was widely quoted both before and after the encyclical and bears not only on the commission and the pope’s prerogative but also on the question of whether or not there was a state of doubt concerning the church’s teaching. See Chapter Four, below.
  3. Cf., for instance, V. Heylen, “La Note 14 dans la Constitution Pastorale Gaudium et spes, P. II, Ch. 1, N. 51,” in ETL 42.(1966), pp. 554-66. Gaudium et Spes (AAS 68(1966), pp. 1025-1115) will henceforth be referred to as GS. English translation for any council documents used here is taken from Walter M. Abbott (ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press, 1966).
  4. AAS 60(1968), pp. 481-503. The encyclical Humanae Vitae will henceforth be referred to as HV except in quotations or titles where the original will be literally reproduced. The choice of the term “personal trial” is an appropriation of the attitude the pope himself expressed concerning his years of study on this issue. See the Allocution of 31 July 1968, AAS 60(1968), pp. 527-30. English translation of this talk is taken from “How the Pope Made up his Mind,” in Herder Correspondence 5(1968), n. 11, pp. 336-7.
  5. AAS 57(1965), pp. 5-67. Lumen Gentium will henceforth be referred to as LG. See also, Christus Dominus (= CD), the Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church, which forms a kind of corollary to LG, Chapter III.
  6. Cf. James Good, “Humanae Vitae: a Platonic Document,” in The Tablet 223 (19 Apr. 1969), n. 6726, pp. 386-7. Reference here is made (but not given) to Felix Dupanloup’s, La Convention du 15 Septembre et: l’Encyclique du 8 Decembre (Paris: Douniol, 1865). Good is critical of this type of interpretation but the historical fact of this and other “interpretations” of official church teaching coupled with the benign acceptance of such by Rome forms a solid, albeit subtle, precedence.
  7. The text of the entire letter (not meant for publication) was “leaked” to the press and appeared first in The Times (London) on 4 September 1968. See, “Reactions to the Encyclical,” in Herder Correspondence 5 (1968), n. 10, 300-13, p. 300.
  8. HV,28 refers, in n. 39 to LG,25. The reference to “Pastors” in both documents is specifically to the bishops.
  9. AAS 60(1968), pp. 527-30. At the beginning and end of the speech, Pope Paul reminds us about the need for expansion of the themes found in HV, including a curious reference to the work of Gustave Martelet, Amour conjugal et renouveau concilaire (Paris: Desclee, 1968).
  10. From a speech delivered to the Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops (= C.E.L.A.M.) -held at Medellin, Colombia, 26 Aug. – 6 Sept. AAS 60(1968), pp. 639-49. The text of the pope’s speeches given at Bogota can be found in The Church in the Present-Day Transformation of Latin America in Light of the Council, Louis Michael Colonnese, ed. (Bogota: Apartado Aereo, 1970), 2 v. (=CELAM I and II). See, v. I, p. 42 and v. II, p. 32.
  11. Cf., for instance, E. Hamel, “Conferentiae episcopales et encyclical Humanae Vitae,” in Periodica de re morali, canonica, liturgica 58 (1969), n. 2-3, pp. 243-349; Gustave Martelet, L’Existence humaine et l’amour: pour mieux comprendre l’encyclique Humanae vitae (Paris: Desclee, 1969), pp. 61-63; John R. Quinn, “Birth Control””and the Irrevelant Church,” in America 119(1968), n. 6, pp. 159-62. Guy de Broglie even went so far as to write a long article attempting to rectify an “apparent discrepency” between the encyclical and the French bishops’ “Pastoral Note,” see, “Conflict de devoirs et contraception,” in Doctor Communis 22(1969), n. 2, pp. 145-75 (esp. pp. 167-72).
  12. Hardly any commentator took a negative view of episcopal divergence from the teaching of HV. One notable exception is V.-A. Berto, “L’Encyclique Humanae Vitae et la conscience,” in La Pensee Catholique (1968), n. 117, pp. 28-42 (esp. p. 32 and p. 41, note). Positively, Philippe Delhaye (in the title article “Pour Relire Humanae Vitae,” in Pour Relire, pp. 9-14), Norman St. John-Stevas (op. cit., pp. 151-99) and Shannon (op. cit., pp. 117-46) are among many who see this phenomenon primarily as one of development opening onto healthy directions in ecclesiology. More recently, Richard A. McCormick has called this “a kind of pastoral contextualizing of the papal teaching, that is not without a neutralizing influence” (p. 30 of “The Silence. Since Humanae Vitae,” in America 129(1973), n. 2, 30-33), but also expresses impatience over the world bishops for failing to go further and become a force of reforming the teaching.
  13. Besides the many articles in L’Osservatory Romano (henceforth referred to as L’OR), see, “Roman Reactions to the Reactions,” in Herder Correspondence 6(1969), n. 1, pp. 28-30. F.V. Joannes (ed.), The Bitter Pill: Wor1dwide Reaction to the Encyclica1 Humanae Vitae (Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1970), p. 375, quotes an articfe in L’OR of 24 Nov. 1968 stating “the encyclical has the consent of the bishops throughout the world, who not only maintain the bond of communion with the successor of Peter, but who also have expressed a unanimous opinion among themselves.” (Cf. “Risposte ad alcuni quesiti a proposito dell’ enciclica ‘Humanae Vitae’,” in L’OR 108(24 Nov. 1968), n. 271, p. 5.)
  14. Some commentators have only analyzed the statements individually, often judging them with one or another question in mind (Cf. Shannon, loc. cit.; Austin Flannery, “Commentary or Qualification? A Note on the Episcopal Statements on Humanae Vitae,” in HVB, pp. 351-67). Another approach is to group the statements according to dominant themes and treat them as groups (cf. St. John-Stevas, loc. cit.). While this introduces consistency, it often lacks nuance. The third approach of combining themes with individual differences is taken up by P. Delhaye (art. cit.) but the introductory nature of his article only touches a few points, while Jan Grootaers (“Humanae vitae et les reactions dans les pays du Tiers monde,” in Pour Relire, pp. 56-66) shows the value of this method and offers a good insight into the importance of understanding perspective in the analysis.
  15. See, “Statement Accompanying Encyclical Humanae Vitae,” in Catholic Mind 66(1968), n. 1225, pp. 49-57; “Conference de presse de Mgr. Lambruschini, tenue a Rome le 29 juillet 1968,” in Pour Relire, pp. 183-4; “Theologian Discusses Encyclical,” in The Tablet 222(14 Sept. 1968), n. 6695, p. 924. I have included this statement here because it is virtually to be taken as part of the”official explanation” of the encyclical and because it contains a few ideas that will be repeated or changed in the subsequent reactions of the bishops.
  16. Catholic Mind, Ibid., p. 54.
  17. Ibid., pp. 51-2.
  18. Ibid., p. 55.
  19. He refers specifically to GS, 16, 50, 89, and the famous footnote 14 of GS,51 which he only says refers to traditional teaching.
  20. Pour Relire, art. cit., pp. 183-4.
  21. Ibid., p7T84.
  22. “Item quivis respuendus est actus, qui, cum coniugale commercium vel praevidetur vel efficitur vel ad suos naturales exitus ducit, id, tamquam finem obtinendum aut viam adhibendam, intendat ut. Procreation impediatur.” The translations of HV used in this study are my own.
  23. Catholic Mind, art. cit., p. 51.
  24. Ibid., p. 49 and Pour Relire, p. 183.
  25. See also, HV,17.
  26. See Chapter Four, below.
  27. Respectively in The Tablet 222(3 and 10 Aug. 1968), nn. 6689-90, pp. 766 and 796.
  28. Dossier I (Amersfoort: Katholiek Archief, 1969). There are various initial reactions scattered throughout the volume listed under countries.
  29. These particular examples are taken from “The Encyclical: First Catholic Reactions,” art. cit., p. 766.
  30. See below, pp. 41-3.
  31. Quoted in “Reactions to the Encyclical,” in Herder Correspondence 5 (1968), n. 10, 300-13, p. 302.
  32. See the “Pastoral Note” of the French episcopacy, especially para. 14-16. A similar example can be found in this French situation where Cardinal Renard of Lyon said on 3 Aug. 1968 that people do not havethe right to choose whether they will follow the teaching of HV, (see, Dossier I, p. 53). Three months later it was Card. Renard who officially presented the French “Pastoral Note” on 15 Nov. and who completely endorsed the statement’s contents (see, “Presentation par le cardinal Renard de la note pastorale des eveques frangais a Lyon, le 15 novembre 1968,” in Pour Relire, pp. 158-61; taken from Doc. Cath. 65(1968), n. 1529, cc. 2063-66.
  33. Statement of the bishops of Switzerland issued 11 December 1968, in HVB, p. 260.
  34. Newspaper account of Bishop Adam’s remarks were reprinted in Pour Relire, p. 210.
  35. Archbishop Nguyen Van Binh of Saigon sent a letter to Pope Paul in the name of the Vietnamese Episcopal Conference. These bishops never published a fuller statement later but this letter is included here because it does not address itself to the issues as such. Among the more developed statements, there are cases of less than full episcopal cooperation: the Italian Bishops’ statement was drawn up by their Presidential Council, the Brazilian Declaration came from their Central Committee, the Puerto Rican Statement from their Doctrinal Commission, and the statement of the Indian bishops from their Permanent Commission. For the last of these, see also, Jan Grootaers, art. cit., p. 64. Apparently, the Indian, bishops could not agree on any one statement.
  36. The entire French text of the letter was printed in L’OR on 6 Sept. 1968 and can be found in Doc. Cath. 65(1968), n. 1525, c. 1720.
  37. HVB, p. 192. This resolution actually forms only part of the entire text of the Council’s work. See Dossier II, pp. 97-124; and Harry Fleddarmann and Forrest L. Ingram, “Morals, Marriage, and Youth,” in America 120(1969), n. 7, pp. 194-6. The Council consisted of 109 voting members. All 9 bishops voted in favor of the resolution.
  38. The text of the entire statement can be found in HVB, p. 191-
  39. Preliminary Statement of the NCCB, 26 Aug. 1968, in HVB, p. 262.
  40. HVB, pp. 262-3.
  41. Dossier I, pp. 170-71.
  42. “L’unite de l’eglise dans la logique de Vatican II: Le Cardinal Suenens repond aux questions de Jose De Broucher,” in ICI (15 May 1969), n. 336, Suppl., pp. i-xvi.
  43. A good example of this would be Bishop J.-M. Reuss of Mainz, an outspoken advocate of change in the church’s teaching on contraception. His later book on the 1975 German Synod is here treated as a theological reaction. Cf. Familienplanung und Empfangnisverhutung (Mainz: Matthias- Grunewald, 1975), reviewed in “The German bishops on Humanae Vitae,” in The Tablet 229(13 Dec. 1975), n. 7067, pp. 1229-31.
  44. While many such minor controversies occurred, certainly the most famous was that between Card. Patrick O’Boyle of Washington, D.C. and his priests. Cf. Norman St. John-Stevas, op. cit., pp. 174-88.
  45. The American Bishops’ Pastoral, “Human Life in Our Day,” Chapter I. Cf. HVB, pp. 276-7.
  46. Charles A. Buswell, “Dissent is not Disloyalty,” in Commonweal 89 (1968), n. 7, pp. 238-9.
  47. Ibid., p. 239.
  48. Cf., for instance, “Directives Pastorales Concernant Humanae Vitae,” in Acta (Liege) 62, pp. 173-85, dated 8 Dec. 1968 and published by Bishops van Zuylen (Liege), Heuschen (Hasselt) and Charue (Namur); and “Notes pastorales addressees au clerge, de son diocese, par Mgr. Himmer, eveque de Tournai,” dated 1 Mar. 1969. Both are reprinted in Pour Relire, pp. 128-42.
  49. “Beschouwingen en Richtlijnen Betreffende de Encycliek Humanae Vitae,” (Gent: Lippens, 1968).
  50. Ibid., p. 22.
  51. The Belgian Declaration, for example, was referred to or quoted by the episcopal statements on HV from the bishops of Austria, England/Wales and Indonesia. Other instances of episcopal interaction will be treated in the course of this study.
  52. John Horgan (ed.), Humanae Vitae and the Bishops: The Encyclical and the Statements of the National Hierarchies (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1972.) ; Pour Relire Humanae Vitae: Declarations episcopales du moride entire (Gembloux: Duculot, 1970); Dossier Humanae Vitae.: Reacties op de. encycliek (Amersfoort: Katholiek Archief, 1969), 2 vol. The bibliography provided contains several references to each of these statements to aid further research because all three references given above are currently out of print. In each case, it is the first reference given which is used in this study. The statements from Angola, Bolivia, Thailand and West Pakistan are not included in this analysis because of unavailability.
  53. Bishop Thiandoum wrote this pastoral letter as a “preface” to the encyclical. Pour Relire, p. 7.
  54. C.E.L.A.M.: The statement of the Second General Conference of Latin American Bishops, held at Medellin, Colombia in Aug./Sept. 1968, is printed in their final report: The Church in the Present-Day Transformation of Latin America in the Light of the Council (the text hereafter referred to as CELAM) from the General Secretariate of C.E.L.A.M., English ed., Louis M. Colonnese: v. I, proposition Papers, v. II, Conclusions. In v. II, sect. 3 addresses itself to “Family and Demography,” (pp. 83-93) a short part of which (para. 10 & 11) deals with HV. Most sources give only these two paragraphs. I have taken the statement as the whole of section 3 of v. II (para. 1-21) so as to preserve the context and meaning of their thoughts.
  55. While this study aims at analyzing the reactions of “collective hierarchies,” some exceptions must be noted. Because of the lack of any group statement from many states and regions, I have included the available reactions from Dahomey, Malta and Senegal, each attributed to only one bishop, because they are from countries which either had no episcopal conference or which are represented as a whole by a senior bishop.
  56. The overall thrust of the Indonesian position can be seen not only by comparison of these three statements but also in their later “clarification” issued in 1974. See Chapter Three, below. One other “clarification” has not been included in this body of material, namely the “Precisions de l’episcopat canadien au sujet de ‘’Humanae Vitae’” (See, Doc. Cath., 18 May 1969, no. 1540, pp. 487-8) because this statement does not change the original statement of the Canadian bishops and its main function was to address the problem of how the theology of marriage was to be taught on the practical level. Although it repeats the original statement’s notion that the teaching of the church must be taken seriously, it adds nothing to the original.
  57. See above, p. 20, n. 54.
  58. “Human Life in Our Day,” the collective pastoral letter of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued 15 Nov. 1968. In HVB, pp. 264-302.
  59. Letter of the Irish bishops issued 16 Feb. 1069, in HVB, pp. 140-62.
  60. The ambiguity of this statement is intended. In some places the question of contraception was complicated by the lack of freedom on the part of the church to express itself in an oppressive, totalitarian atmosphere, such as in communist countries where birth control policies were dictated by the government. In other places, particularly in the highly developed countries, many Catholics had already decided the issue in conscience and gave little credibility to the papal encyclical which appeared as a post factum irrelevancy to them.
  61. The authoritative character is particularly emphasized by bishops from Australia, Brazil, Ceylon, Colombia, Ireland, Korea, Malta, New Zealand, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Rhodesia, Scotland, Senegal, Spain and Yugoslavia.
  62. Notably the statements from Austria, Belgium, Canada, C.E.L.A.M., Czechoslovakia, East Germany, England/Wales, ~France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Switzerland, West German y, and mo9st of the later statements.
  63. The development which this theme demands will be taken up separately.
  64. Brazil, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain and Yugoslavia.
  65. C.E.L.A.M. makes frequent use of Populorum Progressio in the texts of their entire report, but in its section on “Family and Demography,” it mentions it only once in reference to the importance of the family as the foundation of society.
  66. AAS 60(1968), pp. 639-49. See, “Opening Address to the Latin American Bishops’ Conference,” in CELAM, v. I, pp. 27-43, and repeated in v. II, pp. 17-33.
  67. The quote the Spanish bishops use is “such study can be providential and be in itself a brave expression of one’s faith, if the intelligent discipline of the magisterium of the Pope is maintained.” HVB. P. 250.
  68. The most extreme example of such a defence occurring within the first year is that originating from the bishops of the Philippines, dated 12 Oct. 1968. This long declaration includes the systematic defence against many of the criticisms which were levelled against the encyclical in the first two months. This detailed defence of the Vatican’s position seems to have been written by someone rather versed in theological debate, and has the style of a position paper rather than of a pastoral declaration.
  69. It is significant that the poorer West European countries, Spain and Portugal, gave HV a clear acceptance and strong defence. But the cause for this may be closer to their totalitarian form of government than their status as poor countries. Similarly, the countries of the British Isles also constitute a special case in the “£developed world.” But this has more to do with the religious atmosphere of their culture and the tensions created by a strong “Roman Catholic identity.”
  70. Australia (1), Ceylon, Colombia, Dahomey, Ireland (1,2,), Korea, Malta (1), Mexico (1,2). New Zealand, Philippines, Poland (1,2), Portugal, Puerto Rico, Rhodesia, Scotland, Senegal, Spain (2), and Yugoslavia (1).
  71. Austria, Belgium, Canada, C.E.L.A.M., France, Indonesia (1,2), Netherlands (2), Scandinavia, Switzerland and West Germany.
  72. Brazil, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, England/Wales, India, Indonesia (3), Italy, Japan and U.S.A. (2).
  73. In “Pour Relire Humanae Vitae” in Pour Relire, p.14.
  74. Note the statements from Canada, East Germany, England/Wales, France, Indonesia, Switzerland and West Germany.
  75. Declaration of the Brazilian bishops, sect. 4, HVB, p. 173.
  76. See especially sect. 3 of their statement, HVB, pp. 174-7. The Korean bishops also characterize religious life as essentially a “denial of the world.” See sect. 1, HVB, p. 172.
  77. HVB, p. 151
  78. This theme, to be taken up later, can be found explicitly in the statements from Austria, Brazil, C.E.L.A.M., Czechoslovakia, Italy, Poland, Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland and U.S.A.
  79. We are restricting ourselves here to those countries from which we have episcopal statement on HV.
  80. The portion of the statement from the Doctrinal Commission of the bishops of Puerto Rico to which we refer reads:
  81. “These statements might lead some people to form very strict views on how certain states now deal with this problem. Since we are aware of this danger we wish to stress the following as general guidelines:

a. A state does not merit reproach which limits itself simply to showing its citizens the problems of population explosion and even the existence and biologically harmless use of contraceptives, with the purpose of avoiding evils which ignorance of these facts could cause.
b. Tolerance of the importation of contraceptives into the country and the legal regulation of their sale, which tends to lessen an evil which cannot be totally removed; this also appears to be irreproachable – but it calls for great discretion.
c. Positive spreading of contraceptives and above all their imposition in particular cases, even if in order to avoid grave demographical or economic problems: this has no ethical justification whatsoever.” (HVB, 232-3).

81. For a full treatment of these less obvious problems, see Population Problems and Catholic Responsibility (= PPCR), report of an international symposium on population problems in developing countries and worldwide Catholic responsibility, held at Tilburg, Netherlands, 14-18 Jan. 1974. For a treatment of the specific situation in Brazil, see Pedro Calderan Beltrao, “Some aspects of the Latin American Population Problems and the Brazilian Case,” in the same volume, pp. 127-45.
82. See the Declaration of the Central Committee of the Brazilian bishops, sect. 4, “Pastoral Advice,” in HVB, pp. 74-4.
83. Second Statement of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, 11 Apr. 1969, in HVB, p. 185.
84. this will be taken up in Chapter Three on the “Later Statements” from bishops. Cf. Enrique Brito, “Mexico: Toward a New Population Policy?” in PPCR, pp. 156-70.
85. Pastoral Letter of the bishops of Czechoslovakia, HVB, p. 96.
86. Cf. HVB, pp. 213-9.
87. Specific mention of the problem is heard from Austria, Brazil, C.E.L.A.M., Ceylon*, Czechoslovalia*, Dahomey, France, India, Indonesia*, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines*, Portugal, Puerto Rico*, Scandinavia, Senegal, Spain*, U.S.A. and West Germany. (*indicates specific reference or quotation of HV,23).
88.For reference to some of these background problems, see John Horgan’s “Introduction” in HVB, pp. 1-32: for a more in depth reflection, cf. The Bitter Pill, op. cit., Chapter 6, “Third World and Iron Curtain: Two Judges for the Encyclical,” pp. 262-366.
89. Cf. Jan Grootaers, art. Cit., p. 64. Reference is made here to an article in The Catholic Herald, “Indian Bishjops unable to agree on Encyclical,” published on 6 June 1969
90.  Cf. Francois Houtart, “India: A Church Grows Up,” in The Tablet 2234 (14 June 1969), n. 6734, pp. 604-5; and a special issue dedicated to the “All India Seminar” of Eglise vivante 21 (1969), n. 5-6, where the “Declaration finale” of the Seminar, pp. 426-35, does not even mention HV or the ban on artificial contraception. The total of all the work can be found in All India Seminar: The Church in India Today (Bangalore, 1969). V. I: Orientation Papers, v. II: Workshop Handbooks and Observations; see, esp. v. II, pp. 86-91.
91. I am indebted for some of these insights to Profs. L.H, Janssen, S.J. and C. S. Largerberg of the University of Tilburg, Netherlands who did extensive work in preparation for the World Population Conference and organized the Symposium on “Population Problems and Catholic Responsibility.” Information was received in a personal interview on 1 Nov. 1974.92. Pastoral Letter issued on 17 Oct. 1968, Pour Relire, p. 3. This fact is of dubious importance when we consider the complexity of the population problem as mentioned above. The number of people an area can support is directly dependent upon the fertility of the land and the technological capability of utilizing it. The question of whether there is a population explosion in Africa will become acute as its mortality rate continues to fall and its slower development fails to keep pace with rising demands. For a more detailed explanation of demographic information, especially the distinction between simple and “adjusted” figures of population density, see, Arthur McCormack, The Population Problem (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1970) and The Population Explosion: A Christian Concern (New York: Harper and Row, 1973).

  1. For statistics and analysis, see Joseph Boute, “Facts and Problems of the African Population,” in PPCR, pp. 77-96.
  2. Issued 12 Sept. 1968, in Pour Relire, pp. 7-11. Cf. also “Commentaires et echos sur 1’encyclique Humanae Vitae,” in Revue de clerge Africain 24(1969), pp. 34-61, for some brief statements by other African bishops.
  3. Cf., for instance, Raphael C. Wanjohi, Evolution of Morals in Kenya under the Influence of Christianity: A Developed Study of the Agikuvu Morals and Marriage (Ph.D. dissertation, K.U. Leuven, 1974).
  4. HVB, pp. 138-9.
  5. Pastoral Letter of the Irish Bishops, in HVB, pp. 140-62.
  6. See, GS, 48, 49, and especially the last paragraph of GS, 50 and compare with the careful wording of HV, 8 & 9.
  7. Pastoral Letter of the Irish Bishops, sect. 5 & 9, in HVB, p. 148 and 153 respectively.
  8. Ibid. pp. 153-7.
  9. Cf., for example, “Brief van 117 docenten in de filosofie en de theologie aan de nederlandse bisschopen~” of 7 Aug. 1968, in Dossier I, pp. 118-9; “Beknopte verklaring der belgische moralisten” of 24 Sept. 1968, in Dossier I, pp. 39-42; “Gemeenschappelijke verklaring van het theologenberaad t Amsterdam” of 19 Sept. 1968, in Dossier I, pp. 121-3, reprinted in English as “A Call to Go Further” in The Tablet 222 (28 Sept. 1968), n. 6697, pp. 973-4. This last represented a meeting of 21 theologians from 8 countries.
  10. Especially Austria, Canada, France, Swiwtzerland and West Germany.
  11. A very interesting case in point was the situation in France. Fr. Gustave Martelet, who was a personal consultant to Pope Paul and once rumoured to be the secret author of HV, wrote a very influential text to explain and defend the encyclical, L’Existence humaine et amour, op. cit., most of which appeared I n print before the actual book was published. Although the French bishops were evidently influenced by some of this theologian’s thought, their Pastoral Note went considerably further in liberally interpreting HV and drew some significantly different conclusions.
  12. ”Pastoral Note” of the French episcopacy, sect. 7, in HVB, p. 122.
  13. Douglas J. Roche, “Collegiality in Canada”, in The Tablet 222(122 Oct. 1968), n. 6699, pp. 1022-3; “Prelates and the Pill,” in Commonweal 89 (1968), n. 3, pp. 84-5. Mr Roche is editor of the Western Catholic Reporter (Canada). Cf. Edward F. Sheridan, “Canadian Bishops on Human Life,” in America 110(1968), n. 12, pp. 349 &353.
  14. “Prelates and the Pill,” Ibid., p. 84. The author credits much of the success of the dialogue to the intervention of Bishop Alexander Carter of Sault Ste. Marie in the other article, “Collegiality in Canada,” p. 1023.
  15. It should also be noted that the work of the C.E.L.A.M. was the result of wide representation from the Latin American Church.
  16. See Appendix B. The Belgian declaration is somewhat vague in this matter, but information exterior to the statement itself established Its collective character. The French “Pastoral Note” is also well documented by the statement accompanying its presentation. See, “Presentation par le cardinal Renard de la note pastorale des eveques francais a Lyon, le 15 novembre 1968,” art. cit.
  17. See for instate, the sections of the statements of Colombia 8; England/Wales, 2-4; Philippines, 2; Brazil, 1; Portugal, 1 & 3, and Spain, 6.
  18. On the evidence of the nature and content of the statements this would include Ceylon, Ireland, Korea, Poland, Portugal, Rhodesia Scotland, Spain and Yugoslavia. It may be equally significant that outside of Indonesia (3), none of the statements from the third, uncertain group claim U be unanimous or even majority opinions of all he bishops, with the possible exception of that from the U.S. bishops whose meetings were secret and whose reference to common decisions is vague.
  19. The bishops exhibiting such pastoral concern include those from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, East Germany, England/Wales, France, Indonesia, India, Malta, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, West Germany and Yugoslavia.
  20. Statement of the Spanish hierarchy, para. 3, in HVB, p. 2.46.
  21. Pastoral Letter of the Philippine bishops, sect. 1, in HVB, pp. 196-7.
  22. See Pour Relire, p. 87.
  23. Besides the four already mentioned, this includes bishops from Austria, Belgium, Canada, C.E.L.A.M., Czechoslovakia, East Germany, England/ Wales, Italy, Scandanavia and West Germany.
  24. Pope Paul VI, “Opening Address to the Latin American Bishops’ Conference,” in CELAM, I, p. 42; and cf. “Boodschap aan de 82e duitse K a tho1iekend ag te Essen, 30 August 1968,” in Dossier II, pp. 144-5.
  25. For example’ Bernard Haring, “Some Theological Reflections about the Population Problem,” in PPCR, pp.  194-203 claims that the call of the pope to continue the dialogue to understand God’s will better was taken up by a number of episcopal conferences in their interpretation of the encyclical.
  26. The sentance from the Spanish bishops’ statement reads: “If we scorn the guidance of the Church, morality could easily become merely subjective’ (Statement of the Hierarchy of England and Wales, 8),” in HVB, p. 248. If we turn to para 8 of the English/Welsh statement we find that the context of this phrase is an exposition of the rights and duties of individual conscience and includes the affirmation that the encyclical has created a conflict in the minds of many Catholics,” in HVB, p. 116.
  27. The passage in the English/Welsh statement reads: “The Belgian bishops have pointed out that acceptance of the encyclical ‘does not depend so much on the arguments proposed in the statement as on the religious motives to which the teaching authority, sacramentally instituted in the Church, appeals’ (Belgian Hierarchy Statement, 3),” in HVB p 115. Turning to the Belgian declaration (HVB, p. 65) we note that the statement was in the general context of response to any papal statement as elaborated in the teaching of LG,25. While could say that by implication, the Belgian bishops were applying this to HV (the quote itself is taken almost verbatim from HV,28, but no reference direct or indirect, is ever acknowledged by the Belgian bishops), it would seem unfair to omit the previous paragraph of their development which reads: “If we do not find ourselves considering a statement which is infallible and therefore unchangeable – generally an encyclical is not infallible and furthermore Humanae Vitae does not claim to be such – we are not bound to an unconditional and absolute adherence such as is demanded for a dogmatic definition,” in HVB, p. 65.
  28. The quotation found in the “Letter Addressed to the Clergy” by the Indonesian Episcopal Conference, 24 Oct. 1968, (Pour Relire, p. 90) appears in the Belgian Episcopal Declaration, Part 2, sect. 4 (HVB, pp. 65-6) and reads: “Someone, however, who is competent in the matter under consideration and capable of forming a personal and well-founded judgment – which necessarily presupposes a sufficient amount of knowledge – may, after serious examination before God, come to other conclusions on certain points. In such a case he has the right to follow his conviction provided that he remains sincerely disposed to continue his enquiry.”
  29. The West German bishops express ideas on conscientious dissent very similar to those of the Belgians in their statements, issued on the same. day. These same ideas can be found later in the statements from Canada, East Germany, England/Wales, France, Italy, Scandinavia and Switzerland.
  30. Besides direct reference to HV, this would include most of the traditional teaching on the subject, such as Casti Connubii (specifically referred to by Mexico, Portugal and Yugoslavia), Pope Pius XII’s 1951 allocution to the Midwives and the documents of Vatican I and II, as well as the various “official” commentaries such as by Msgr. Lambruschini, Card. Cicognani and the Pope himself.
  31. See the Statement of the Presidential Council of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, 10 Sept. 1968 (sect. A,1 & B,3) in HVB, pp. 164 and 168. Actually, the earliest statement to refer to the teaching as an “ideal” was from C.E.L.A.M. on 6 Sept. 1968 (See para. 11, CELAM, II, p. 91, also in HVB, p. 84). This reference, however, is not as developed as the Italian statement, which also received greater publication in the international press.
  32. Namely, Austria, Brazil, (C.E.L.A.M.), Czechoslovakia, Scandinavia and Switzerland. We find hints of the same idea in the statements from Poland, Portugal, Spain and the U.S.A.
  33. Both these ideas occur in Part 2, sect. 5 of their declaration, see HVB, p. 66.
  34. Cf. for example, Philippe Delhaye, “L’Encyclique Humanae vitae et 1’ enseignement due Vatican II sur las marriage et la famille (Gaudium et spes).” In Bijdragen 29(1969), pp. 351-68 (swee bibliography.
  35. GS, 16 is quoted by Canada, East Germany, Philippines and Switzerland; DH,3 is quoted by Canada, Philippines and West Germany and referred to by Belgium and U.S.A.
  36. The English texts read: “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths. In an wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbour. In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence the more that a correct conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by objective norms of morality.” The underlined parts are those quoted sequentially by the Philippine bishops. See HVB, p. 200
  37. The two texts quoted are found in HVB, pp. 199 and 202 respectively and read: “In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully, in order that he may come to God for whom he was created. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.” (HD,3 = HVB, p. 199), and “the council also give s everyone the duty and right ‘to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience.’” (DH,3 = HVB, p. 202).
  38. HVB,p.203
  39. Fifteen statements quote and four refer to LG,25; thirteen statements quote and three refer to GS,50.  See appendix C (the apparent discrepancy in numbers is due to the combination of multiple statements and the inclusion of later ones in the Appendix).
  40. Australia, England/Wales, France, Ireland (2), Philippines and Scotland. The text from which all six quote is the second paragraph of DH,14 which reads: “(In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.) The Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that Truth which is Christ himself, and to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself.”
  41. HVB, pp. 121 and 116 respectively.
  42. HVB, pp. 57, 158, 203 and 243 respectively.
  43. C.E.L.A.M., Canada, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, France, Indonesia, Ireland (2), Spain, Switzerland and U.S.A. See Appendix C.
  44. The exceptions to this are Spain which only refers to GS,48 on the strengthening of love by Christ (HVB, p. 252) and the second document from Ireland. In the Irish case, the bishops quote GS,52 on the appeal to public authority to protect public morality (HVB, pp. 149-50) but it is significant that this long episcopal development on the theology of marriage does not quote or refer to anything else in GS except para. 50 and 51.
  45. GS,51, n. 14 is an explanation of why the Council did not address itself specifically to the question of contraception. After some historical ” references , the note read: “Quaedam quaestiones quae aliis ac diligentionibus investigationibus indigent, iussu Summi Pontificis Comissioni pro studio populationis, familiae et natalitatis traditae sunt ut postquam ilia munus suum expleverit, Sunimus Pontifex iudicium ferat. Sic stante doctrina Magisterii, S. Synodus solutions concretas immediate proponere non intendit.” (AAS 58(1966), pp. 1072-3). The implication of this footnote is the non-absolute character of the church’s teaching on contraception, an implication many bishops chose to ignore. Cf. Victor Heylen, art. cit. While we would not expect the bishops to write pastoral letters on the basis of exegeting footnotes, we might ask why most failed to point out that the issue, of methods of regulating procreation was considered a problematic one in the course of conciliar debate. See below, Chapter Four.
  46. Cf. for instance, Victor Heylen, art. cit., and Louis Janssens, “Chastite conjugale selon l’encyclique Casti connubii et suivant la constitution pastorale Gaudium et spes,” in ETL 42(1966), n. 3, pp. 513-54.
  47. Some of these foundational points, especially present in GS, 50 and 51 are: the notion of “human and Christian responsibility” which GS,50 mentions twice; the objective standards “based on the nature of the human person and his acts,” (ex personae eiusdemque actuum natura de-sumptis,” – not the ipsa matrimonii eiusque actuum natura of HV,iO) in GS,51; and a “conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and… submissive toward the Church’s teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel,” in GS,50 (emphasis added; the thought occurs again rephrased in GS,51).
  48. The English text, the most important part of which may be found in the previous footnote, is reproduced in full in Appendix C, p. 7° (GS,50 f – i), and discussed in Chapter Four, below.
  49. This is the locus of footnote 14. It is worthy to note also that some council fathers objected to this passage on the grounds that it was repetitious of the idea already present in GS,50. The intervention of the pope in this matter had a decisive role in the final draft of this text, the sense of which cannot be fully appreciated without attention to the footnote.

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