Humanae vitae: A Legacy

Pia Matthews

July 2018 marks fifty years since the publication of Humanae vitae by Pope Paul VI. This article explores why it still resonates today. Pia Matthews lectures in healthcare ethics at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh.

Fifty years on, there is still plenty of talk about a document concerned with contraception. Why? After all, many priests report that issues of contraception do not come up in the confessional. Certainly the Sacrament of Reconciliation as individual confession is in deep crisis in many parishes and this is due to a number of factors. Arguably one significant factor is that there appears to be a disconnection between Church teaching and actual practice. And many point to the practice of contraception as the chief culprit. Undoubtedly Pope John Paul II’s famous Wednesday catechetical sessions and subsequent book, Theology of the Body was written in part, though only in part, to address this disconnection. However, it seems that the debate has moved beyond ‘responsible parenthood’, not the least because the Church is seen as complicit in the HIV AIDS tragedy in Africa by its refusal to accept the distribution of condoms.

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