What really happened with the birth control commission

Germain Grisez, professor emeritus of philosophy and moral theology at Mount St. Mary’s College in Maryland, has released some documents that few in the Church have seen before.

According to the Catholic News Agency, Grisez wants to set the record straight about the 1963-1966 commission about birth control which took place before the encyclical Humane Vitae was released:

“The idea of what happened with the commission has been shaped by people who were pro-contraception.” said Grisez… “It’s their account of what happened, that has been circulated over the years.”

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Grisez was assistant to commission member Fr. John Ford and says that there are numerous misunderstandings about the commission that date back to 1967, the year before Pope Paul VI wrote Humanae Vitae.

During that year, a number of commission documents containing pro-contraception arguments were leaked to the public and the press. The move led to the popular misconception of the Pope “overruling” a commission, although the commission had no authority to make decisions.

Those who supported the traditional teaching, like Fr. Ford, could have responded in kind with their own document leaks. But they chose not to do so at the time, considering themselves bound to keep the commission’s work private and wait for the Pope to speak authoritatively.

According to Grisez, this one-sided perspective on the commission’s work made it appear that Pope Paul had simply disregarded the majority report.

But the new documents shows that the Pope took both sides of the issue seriously, and gave advocates of artificial contraception every chance to make their case.

Grisez says the pope was very interested in the arguments being made for new methods of contraception, but the commission was never intended to be public nor to have any teaching authority. The pope became convinced the pill was wrong, but the leaks had already paved the way for a poor reception of his encyclical.

Grisez hopes that releasing the documents may help undo some of this damage and provide more understanding about what actually happened:

“If that were better understood,” he noted, “I think a lot of the resentment surrounding ‘Humanae Vitae’ could be dissolved.”

Read the whole story here.


  • Zoe Romanowsky

    Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in “Catholic Digest,” “Faith & Family,” “National Catholic Register,” “Our Sunday Visitor,” “Urbanite,” “Baltimore Eats,” and Godspy.com. Zo

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