50 Years Ago, Pope Paul VI Predicted #MeToo

Can anyone deny that the pope was spot-on in his predictions?

Image from the beatification of Paul VI
Image from the beatification of Paul VI (photo: Photo: Utente, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

I haven’t heard anyone crediting Blessed Pope Paul VI for predicting the #MeToo moment in which we now find ourselves, but clearly he saw it coming.

On July 25, 1968, he released Humanae Vitae, an encyclical that was expected to realign the teachings of the Catholic Church to embrace artificial contraception. The majority of a commission appointed by his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, recommended this realignment.

They, like the rest of the world, were stunned when the Pope failed to bend the knee to popular culture and continued the ban on contraception, including that decade’s most revolutionary innovation — the Pill.

On May 10, 1960, the Federal Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the synthetic progesterone pill Enovid as a birth control pill, following a controversial human trial on unwitting subjects in Puerto Rico, three of whom died. When I visited Puerto Rico in 2006, to speak to women’s groups in several cities and towns around the island, people shared with me their personal knowledge of the drug trials. Many felt there had been a massive cover-up about the adverse effects on the women who participated in this research without their knowledge or consent.

But once the Pill had FDA approval, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. By the time Humanae Vitae was published, the embrace of “free love” – or sex without consequences – had spread like wildfire in the U.S. and elsewhere. Pope Paul was a witness to these societal changes, and he knew the Pill would only make things worse.

In section 17, (emphasis mine) he wrote:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

We’ve been watching the degradation and exploitation of women in popular culture for decades, but we consoled ourselves with the misbegotten notion that it was just “entertainment.” Then the real-life victims began to speak out, and their numbers and the horrific stories they told are forcing a long-overdue reckoning. Powerful men in every industry have been accused of reducing women - to quote Pope Paul - “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.”

Can anyone deny that the pope was spot on in this prediction? I don’t think so.

In Humanae Vitae, the pope also spoke of world leaders who, fearing a population explosion would turn to contraception and abortion to keep their populace in check:

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

It was just over a decade later, in 1979, that China imposed its one-child policy, with forced abortion and female infanticide. This practice, which spread to other parts of Asia, has eliminated siblings for much of humanity and contributed to human trafficking and sexual violence against women.

Pope Paul VI predicted all of this in his incredibly prescient encyclical. As we mark the 50th anniversary of this bold document, I hope that everyone who cares about the future of the human race will read it, again or for the first time. It’s relevance to today is striking.

Priests for Life published a study guide on Humanae Vitae. It can be read here.