Publication of Encyclical Humanae Vitae
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Pope Paul VI
Time Period
Pope Pius XI prohibited birth control in the 1930 encyclical Casti Conubii, while Pope Pius XII permitted the use of the rhythm method in 1951. Due to wide variation in opinions among Catholics on the permissibility of birth control and changing opinions on gender, the family, and sex, Pope John XXIII established the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control in 1963 to clarify the church’s position on contraception. In 1966, the commission voted overwhelmingly for the church to end its opposition to artificial birth control, a decision also ratified by a group of cardinals and bishops. Many observers expected Pope Paul VI to heed these commissions’ votes and allow Catholics to use contraception. However, Pope Paul’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae affirmed the church’s prohibition on artificial birth control. Reaction among American Catholics was largely negative, with most laypeople and many clergy disregarding the contraceptive ban.
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VI, Paul

Oral Contraceptives, 1970s- US Food and Drug Administration photo

Humanae Vitae title page- Courtesy of the Vatican Publishing House

Pope Paul VI portrait- National Archive and Records Administration
Book/Journal Source(s)
Morris, Charles R., 1997. American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church. New York: Times Books.
Noonan, John Thomas, 1965. Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Tentler, Leslie Woodcock, 2004. Catholics and Contraception: An American History. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Web Source(s)
Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae of the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI On the Regulation of Birth
Web Page Contributor
William S. Cossen
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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