Paul VI, John Paul II and Humanae Vitae

What did Paul VI have to do with John Paul II in the drafting of Humanae Vitae?

Paul VI in 1977 and John Paul II in 1993
Paul VI in 1977 and John Paul II in 1993 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Humanae Vitae and its author Blessed Paul VI are still making headlines in the Catholic media — but not only in the Catholic media! A revelation. Humanae Vitae, the first draft of the encyclical rejected by Paul VI, was a headline of July 10, 2018, published in Avvenire, an Italian daily newspaper of “Catholic inspiration.” “Humanae vitae,” Paul VI’s Secret Survey” another clickbait headline that mixes mystery and intrigue for people published by Italian daily La Stampa’s Vatican Insider, on July 11, 2018. “Secret” is a key word, connected with Humanae Vitae — add the Vatican, and the headline was made. Throwing the Secret Vatican archives into the mix makes the article especially intriguing — although, of course, the Secret Vatican archives are not secret, in the sense of mysterious or intriguing, or locked behind the high Vatican walls. (The Vatican Secret Archives are the private archives of the pontiff, and only the pontiff can determine the regulations for their consultation.) Headlines aside, the Avvenire article made an important announcement: the publication of a new book by Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo and new findings on Humanae Vitae based on never-before-consulted Vatican Archive documents “which allowed [the author] to reconstruct the genesis of the encyclical, its various drafts, the corrections made by Paul VI.” Pope Francis has determined in favor of opening the archives, although some of the documents might be short of the 50-year-minimum rule from the date when the documents were written. Additionally, the Avvenire article provides some detail on the number bishops who dissented from Humanae Vitae: “Most them [the bishops] was [sic] for the lawfulness of the use of contraceptive methods: only seven asked the Pope to pronounce on its unlawfulness.”

Numbers are craftily presented in the article: “Of the more than two hundred members of the synod, only 26 replied between October 1967 and May 1968—and only seven of these 26 recommended that Paul VI confirm Pius XI’s prohibition of contraception.” Let’s do the math: two hundred members were invited to give feedback, of whom 26 replied, and from those who responded 19 wanted the Church’s teaching on contraception to change and 7 were against any change on the pill. Nineteen of 200 bishops invited supported change – this is a small number of bishops when one moves beyond the headlines and does the math. Paul VI acted collegially and invited bishops to participate and have their say in the matter. It is true that numbers can be misleading, especially when skewed to validate a position on a hot topic such as Humanae Vitae’s strong stand on contraception.

Additionally, Avvenire reports that “Wojtyla had some important contributions (the most famous being the Kraków Memorial of February 1968), but these did not influence the writing of the encyclical. ‘The sources do not allow to affirm — Marengo writes — that these texts have been used in a significant way in the drafting of Humanae Vitae.’” Among the opponents who supported the traditional Church teaching on marriage and family was Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków. How much Wojtyla and the Kraków Memorial influenced Paul VI this remains to be determined after evidence from Marengo’s and Gałuszka’s archival findings are evaluated by scholars.

What did Paul have to do with Karol, Rome with Kraków?

A great deal! According to a new book (2017) entitled Karol Wojtyla e Humanae Vitae, Il Contributo dell’Arcivescovo di Cracovia e del Gruppo di Teologi Polacchi all’ Enciclica di Paolo VI by Fr. Paweł Stanisław Gałuszka, a priest in the Archdiocese of Kraków, the influence of Wojtyla and the Kraków commission is undeniable in influencing the drafting of Humanae Vitae. This meticulous study provides carefully documented evidence in Polish, from the Archives of the Diocese of Kraków, which were partly unknown until now, regarding “the birth” and the hermeneutics of Humanae Vitae. According to evidence presented in the book, there is a valuable research provided to Pope Paul VI by the Archbishop of Kraków and the Kraków group of collaborators in the preparation of Humanae Vitae.

On Feb. 16, 1966, the Archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyla, was appointed as a member of the Commissio Pontificia pro Studio Populationis Familia et Natalitatis, a commission set up during the pontificate of John XXIII in March 1963. Paul VI’s intention as he explicates in Humanae Vitae was to “confirm and expand the commission.” This commission, of which Wojtyla was a member, was made up of clergy, mostly cardinals and bishops, appointed by the pope, with the task of studying the family, matrimony and the regulations of births. The pertinent topics were explored from theological and pastoral perspectives while not neglecting other disciplines including medicine, sociology and demographics. This commission based its deliberations on the work of another commission which was made up of highly trained experts and scholars in the field, including both religious and lay people, men and women. Since its beginning this two-layered commission played a consultative role, while it expected the reigning pontiff to determine and express “definitive and absolutely certain” dogma on questions related to faith and morals, as Paul VI clearly explains in Humanae Vitae No. 6.

Paul VI’s choice of Archbishop Wojtyla to be part of the commission was obvious: in 1960 Wojtyła’s book Love and Responsibility was published in Polish, and since then Wojtyła’s keen theological, philosophical and pastoral interests in the family and matrimony were well-known beyond Poland. Through the Kraków group of scholars and theologians created personally and immediately by Wojtyla, the archbishop was applying, on a local level, Vatican II’s teachings on matrimony and openness to conjugal-procreative love, and providing input to the pontiff on these pressing moral issues. The Kraków group deliberations gave birth to the document called Primo Votum di Cracovia (Primo Voto), or the first draft of the document. After Vatican II, the Primo Votum di Cracovia marked the second time for Wojtyla made a case against artificial contraception. Primo Votum di Cracovia document was delivered to Pope Paul VI and the Fr. Henri de Reidmatten, who was serving as a secretary of the Commissio Pontificia pro Studio Populationis Familia et Natalitatis on July 8, 1966, exactly two years before the promulgation of Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968. The Primo Votum di Cracovia was received with much gratitude by the members of the commission, given Wojtyla could not travel in person to Rome because the Communist government in Poland had denied authorization for the archbishop to travel abroad. The Primo Votum di Cracovia document synthetically analyzed theological arguments against artificial contraception, applying the Church’s teaching as explicated by the Second Vatican Council Gaudium et Spes:

By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus, a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them. Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.

The second part of the Primo Votum di Cracovia document, according to Gałuszka’s book provided a concrete and detailed exploration of the situation of the use birth control in Poland. The document focused on the conjugal act and the human person (Wojtyłan personalistic approach) behind the conjugal act. The document explained that by using natural methods (of birth control):

Man, neither violates, destroys or annihilates, their intrinsic quality nor their proper potentiality; instead [man] does his best to profoundly understand this quality and to adapt to it; while [he] is committed to help in a just way to [his] fulfillment. Only this relationship to nature is contemporaneously creative for man himself and perfects him, too.

For two years the thinking of Wojtyla and his Kraków collaborators served as an incubator for the arguments against artificial contraception laid down in Humanae Vitae by Paul VI. The July 1966 Kraków document was followed by a Secondo Votum – this produced what came to be known the Kraków Memorial, which was delivered to Pope Paul VI in February 1968. This second document from Kraków was elaborated and amplified following the lead of the Episcopal Conference of Poland, and precisely of the Commission for the Pastoral Care of families, as a reaction of the Polish church to the illicit publication in the international media of the working documents of Commissio Pontificia pro Studio Populationis Familia et Natalitatis, which were in fact working documents and not to be cited – far less, to be leaked to the media. Among the commission’s working documents: Status quaestionis, Documentum syntheticum de moralitate regulationis nativitatum and Schema documenti de responsabili patenitate were illicitly published. This was cause for much indignation on the part of documents’ authors, given the private nature of their deliberations about such highly sensitive matters as regulations of births. The irresponsible media leak of the private deliberations of the commission was considered a “grave incorrectness” committed against the commission. Additionally, this evidenced a concerted pressure being built against the orthodoxy of Pope Paul VI and his encyclical which was upholding centuries-old Church teaching on marriage and family.

According to Gałuszka’s meticulous and documented findings, the Kraków documents were not the only documents to have influenced the decision of Pope Paul VI before the promulgation of Humane Vitae. A year before the promulgation of the encyclical, in 1967, Pope Paul VI had received the Memorandum di Ulm, a document which was elaborated and presented to Paul VI by medical doctors and members of the medical symposium of Ulm in the then Federal Republic of Germany – one year before the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. The document reported that according to “research accurately conducted, the pills which were then sold as contraceptives in some cases caused abortion.” The abortifacient effects of the birth control pill were also reinforced by a new book by Dr. J. Rötzer: Kinderzahl und Liebesehe. Ein Leitfaden zur Regelung der Empfängnis, in 1965, three years before the promulgation of the encyclical. So, Paul VI was receiving “eloquent” support not only from moral theologians but also from what Gałuszka calls “empirical sciences” which collectively testify to the dangers of the pill and that one has no right to end a human life even if “this could happen in 1 percent of the cases”

In sum, from the documents coming from Kraków, there was a profound convergence between the thinking of Montini and Wojtyla in matters related to matrimony, family and the use of artificial contraception. Paul VI was appreciative of such a collaboration and collegiality with the archbishop of Kraków and his group of collaborators. What Wojtyla and his Kraków collaborators provided to Paul VI were theologically and pastorally proven arguments in the debate against the use of artificial contraception. The Kraków documents provided Pope Paul VI a deeper theological-moral and pastoral view of the consequences of contraception from the experience of a local church – the Church in Poland. Although the Kraków Memorial was not specifically cited in Humane Vitae (other preparatory documents are not mentioned, either), the problematic, theology and pastoral approach of the Kraków Memorial are very present in Paul VI’s encyclical, first and foremost in the teaching on “human love present in Humanae Vitae, in which the pope presupposes the existence of some antecedent principles which determine its form.” Nonetheless, there are differences between the two documents: for example, Pope Paul VI did not make use of the arguments in favor of the personalistic approach – man as an individual, not as an object – which the Kraków document explored more in detail.

What did Paul have to do with Karol, Rome with Kraków, in the drafting of Humanae Vitae?

More than one might expect. Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Kraków were in harmony in upholding Church’s infallible teaching on birth control, backing it with a sound theological, moral and pastoral approaches. If one reads Humanae Vitae and the final version of the Kraków Memorial parallelly, the thematic harmony and the solutions provided between the two documents are striking. There is no ground to believe that the Kraków Memorial did not have any impact on the writing of Humanae Vitae. Paul VI’s thinking and orthodoxy on the topic of artificial contraception was consistent with Church’s teaching and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

What about the bishops who were invited by Pope Paul VI to provide feedback but never responded or those bishops who were against Humanae Vitae? There is no better answer than that of Cardinal Ratzinger explicated in an introduction to Humanae Vitae in a 1995 publication of the encyclical:

The problem of the relationship between the majority of the commission and the definitive decision of the Pope [Paul VI] touches on fundamental questions, which go beyond the problematic of Humanae Vitae. Here the problems should be posed: When is a majority truly representative? Who must represent [the majority]? How can this be done? … A commission, which provides an opinion on the doctrine of the Church, must not in any circumstance represent the majority of the dominant opinions, but the inner essence of faith. The truth is not decided by the majority; before the question of Truth the democratic principle has limits. Moreover, in the Church, it does not count only the current-present society. In it [the Church] the dead are never dead, because as a communion of saints it [the Church] goes beyond the boundaries of the present time. The past has not passed, and the future, because of this, is already present. In other words: in the Church there can be no majority against the saints, against the great witnesses of the faith that characterize its entire history. They always belong to the present, and their voice cannot be put in the minority. The responsibility for the continuity of Church doctrine was, and rightly so, more important for Paul VI, than a commission of 60 members, whose votes were to be taken into consideration, but could not constitute the last resort in front of the heavy weight of tradition.

In conclusion, during the time of Paul VI, as now, the modern man was losing the sense of God. The concept of aggiornamento was mistakenly understood as an arbitrary change. Pope Paul VI did not stand for this kind of aggiornamento. Instead, he consistently promulgated Church’s teaching, preserving, continuing and transmitting the Tradition. This does not mean that the Holy Father was not supportive of aggiornamento or not in favor of a lively and ever new history of the Church. He stood against an historicism which dissolved traditional dogmatic commitment or a theology which conformed to free subjective theories, which were often mutated by adversary sources. Pope Paul VI had no doubt in his mind about the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, although he was very much aware of the negative reactions coming from within and outside the Church. He resisted, firm in his faith, and followed what Peter had commanded: to strengthen his brothers in faith, as he said in his homily of Aug. 24, 1968. Paul VI and his eventual successor John Paul II were not afraid!