ROME, July 19, 2018 (LifeSiteNews ) — At the beginning of 2017, Pope Francis set up a “study commission” to prepare for the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (July 25, 2018). The existence of this “secret” commission was brought to light some months after by two Catholic publications, Stilum Curae  and Corrispondenza Romana .
The commission, coordinated by Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo, was tasked with finding in the Vatican Archives the documentation relating to the preparatory work on Humanae Vitae which took place during and after Vatican Council II.
The first fruit of this work is the volume by Monsignor Gilfredo Marengo, The birth of an Encyclical. Humanae Vitae in the light of the Vatican Archives [La nascita di un’Enciclica. Humanae Vitae alla luce degli Archivi Vaticani], published by the Vatican Publishing House. Other publications perhaps will follow, and other documents will presumably be submitted privately to Pope Francis.
From a historiographical point of view, Msgr. Marengo’s book is disappointing. Regarding the genesis and consequences of the encyclical Humanae Vitae within the context of the contraceptive revolution, the best book, to my opinion, is the one by Renzo Puccetti, The poison of contraception [I veleni della contraccezione] (Dominican Edizioni Studio, Bologna 2013).
Msgr. Marengo’s study does, however, contain some new elements. The most relevant is the publication of the complete text of an encyclical De nascendi prolis(pp. 215-238), which, after five years of tormented work, Paul VI approved on May 9, 1968, fixing the date of its promulgation on the Solemnity of the Ascension (May 23).
The encyclical, which Msgr. Marengo calls “a rigorous pronouncement of moral doctrine” (pg. 104), was already been printed in Latin when a surprising twist occurred. The two French translators, Msgr. Jacques Martin and Msgr. Paul Poupard, expressed serious reservations about the document’s overly “traditional” approach. Disturbed by the criticism, Paul VI worked personally on numerous modifications of the text, changing above all its pastoral tone, which became more “open” to the cultural and social demands of the contemporary world.
Two months later, De nascendi prolis was transformed into Humanae Vitae. The Pope’s concern was to ensure that this new encyclical “would be accepted in the least problematic way possible” (p. 121), thanks not only to the reformulation of its language, but also to the devaluation of its dogmatic character (p. 103).
Msgr. Marengo recalls that Paul VI did not accept the invitation of the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, to issue a “pastoral instruction, reaffirming without uncertainty the authoritativeness of the doctrine of Humanae Vitae, in the face of the widespread protest movement against it” (p. 128).
The objective, or at least the outcome, of Msgr. Marengo’s book, seems to be to relativize the encyclical of Paul VI, which is presented as one phase in a complex historical path that does not end with the publication of Humanae Vitae, nor with the discussions that followed it. One cannot “claim to give a ‘definitive’ word and to close down, if ever there were need, the decades-long debates” (pg. 11).
On the basis of the historical reconstruction of Msgr. Marengo, the new theologians who refer to Amoris laetitia will say the teaching of Humanae Vitae has not changed, but must be understood as a whole, without limiting oneself to the condemnation of contraception, which is only one aspect of it. Pastoral care — it will be added — is the criterion for interpreting a document that reminds us about the Church’s doctrine on the regulation of births, but also of the need to apply it according to wise pastoral discernment. In the final analysis, it is a question of reading Humanae Vitae in the light of Amoris laetitia.
Humanae Vitae was a painful (as Paul VI himself called it) and certainly courageous encyclical. Indeed, the essence of the 1968 Revolution was captured in the saying “it is forbidden to forbid,” a slogan that expressed the rejection of every authority and every law, in the name of the liberation of instincts and desires.
Humanae Vitae, in reiterating its condemnation of abortion and contraception, recalled that not everything is allowed, that there is a natural law and a supreme authority — the Church — which has the right and the duty to protect it. Humanae Vitae, however, was not a “prophetic” encyclical. It would have been so, had it dared to oppose the false prophets of Neo-Malthusianism with the divine words “Increase and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28; 9:27).
Yet it did not do so, because Paul VI, in his fear of colliding with the world, accepted the myth of the demographic explosion, launched in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich’s book, The population bomb. In 2017, Ehrlich himself was invited by Msgr. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo to reiterate his theories on overpopulation at the conference organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The conference was titled: Biological Extinction. How to save the natural world we depend on(February 27 – March 1, 2017).
In his book, the author described the catastrophic scenarios that the inhabitants of Earth would have to face if measures were not taken to contain population growth. What the encyclical rightly condemns is artificial contraception, but without rejecting the new “dogma” of the necessary reduction in births. Humanae Vitaereplaced Divine Providence, which up to that point had regulated births in Christian families, with the human calculation of “responsible parenthood.”
However, the Magisterium of the Church does dogmatically state that contraception is to be condemned not only because it is an un-natural method in itself, but also because it is directly opposed to the primary end of marriage, which is procreation. If one does not affirm that the procreative end prevails over the unitive one, one can maintain the thesis that contraception can be lawful when it undermines the “intima communitas” of the spouses.
John Paul II vigorously reaffirmed the teaching of Humanae Vitae, but the concept of conjugal love that spread under his pontificate is at the origin of many misunderstandings. In this regard, I refer to the precise observations of Don Pietro Leone, the pseudonym of an excellent contemporary theologian, in his book The Family Under Attack [La famiglia sotto attacco] (Solfanelli 2017).
In the last 50 years, due also to a misguided understanding of the ends of marriage, papal teachings were disregarded, and among Catholics the practice of contraception and abortion, extra-matrimonial cohabitations, and homosexuality have become widespread. The post-synodal Exhortation Amoris laetitia represents the result of an itinerary that has been a long time coming.
Repeating almost verbatim the words spoken on October 29, 1964, in the Council hall, by Cardinal Leo-Joseph Suenens: “It may be that we have accentuated the word of Scripture, ‘Increase and multiply,’ to the point of overshadowing the other divine word, ‘The two will be one flesh’,” Pope Francis said in Amoris laetitia. “We often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation” (n. 36).
Reversing these words, we could say that in recent decades we have almost exclusively accentuated the biblical word, “The two will be one flesh,” to the point of overshadowing the other divine Word: “Increase and multiply.” It is also from this deeply meaningful Word that we must set out again towards not only a demographic, but also spiritual and moral, rebirth of Europe and the Christian West.