Monsignor Gilfredo Marengo’s new book, “La nascita di un’enciclica. Humanae vitae alla luce degli Archivi Vaticaniˮ (Birth of an encyclical. Humanae vitae in the light of the Vatican Archives), reveals that in 1967, Pope Montini asked for an opinion on contraception: few answered and most of them were in favor of an opening.

Paul VI, during the first Synod of Bishops held in the Vatican, had the Cardinal Secretary of State ask for an opinion on contraception in view of the publication of the encyclical. Only 26 of the 200 bishops present produced a written response. Of these, most said they were in favor of some opening to the pill, while 7 were against. But Pope Montini, who had already removed the subject from the Council discussion and had listened to the opinions of a commission of experts (the majority of whom were in favor), did not believe that there was any reason to change the position held up to that moment by his predecessors and promulgated a few months after his Humanae vitae, which came out in July – fifty years ago – lacking however the chrism of infallibility, as some would have liked.  

“The news of the Pope’s desire to consult all the members of the synodal assembly is very important – Marengo points out- because one of the most repeated accusations, after the publication of Humanae vitae, was that the Pope had decided in solitude, in a non- collegial way”.

The speakers 

Favorable to the opening were more than 18 cardinals and bishops. 

There were 7 opponents in all: the American Fulton Sheen, Bishop of Rochester; Cardinal Santos (Manila); Cardinal Tappouni, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians: Cardinal Siri (Genoa); Bishop Attipetty (Verapoly, India); Apostolic Vicar Hartl (Araucanìa, Chile); Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, later Pope John Paul II. 

The pro-pill reasons 

Among the many interventions that in various ways called for a change in the terms of the Church’s teaching on birth regulation, the author of the book notes that the most outstanding were those of Cardinals Suenens and Döpfner. The Belgian cardinal, great electorate of Paul VI (the new Pope had him standing next to him at the window, at the end of his first Angelus, Sunday 23 June 1963) had sent three texts. “Knowing well Paul VI’s concern to keep in line with the Magisterium of his predecessors, in the first text he tried to show how Pius XII’s decision to judge lawful the use of the Ogino-Knaus method, while introducing an element of novelty with respect to Casti connubii, could not be understood as discordant with the Magisterium of Pius XI. The same would have happened if the thesis claiming that, under certain conditions, the spouses could use the contraceptive pill, had been accepted. 

…and those of the opponents 

Among those who, instead, had spoken in harmony with the intention of Paul VI, only Wojtyła had gone beyond “the simple request that a future document of the Magisterium reaffirm what Pius XI and Pius XII had already affirmed”. The future John Paul II had in fact sent, presented as a Votum in the name of the bishops of Poland, the so-called “Memorial of Cracoviaˮ. “The annoyance towards the conservative positions – Marengo writes – emerges in the first part of the Memoir, where he shows his dissatisfaction with the way in which they argued about the value of the ecclesial magisterium with regard to natural law, with a special emphasis on the infallible continuity of his teaching. Two critical elements have been expressed. The first was of a methodological nature: “that the refusal of contraception belonged definitively to the infallible ordinary Magisterium of the Church could not be taken for granted, precisely because the Pope had considered it necessary to re-examine the problem (through the Pontifical Commission itself).  

The paper grasped the limits of the positions of the minority that, taking for granted the authoritative profile of the ecclesial teachings already produced, considered useless any approach to the question that went beyond the mere repetition of the data traditionally present in the doctrinal patrimony of the church. For this reason, the theologians of Krakow highlighted the limit of this position which, invoking the authority of the Magisterium, did not care to develop an argument supporting the theses, with particular regard to the philosophical and theological profile of the category of natural law”.

Full story at La Stampa.